Amid the biggest protests against Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro's government, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez surrendered to police Tuesday.
Just before he was taken away in an armored police car, Lopez told crowds of supporters in an impassioned speech that he hopes his detention will call greater attention to corruption and economic problems in the country, The Associated Press reported.
“I present myself to an unjust judiciary. ... May my jailing serve to wake up a people," he said in the speech, per Reuters.
Lopez, 42, is being held responsible for leading what Maduro calls a “fascist” plot to overthrow the government. The opposition leader faces charges including terrorism, intentional homicide and instigation to violence after three protesters were killed by unknown gunmen during anti-government demonstrations in Caracas last week.
Many in the international community, including Lopez, consider his arrest to be a diversion from the problems facing the government.
“What Venezuela urgently needs is for these killings to be investigated and the killers brought to justice, no matter their political affiliation,” José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in a written statement. “What Venezuela does not need is authorities scapegoating political opponents or shutting down news outlets whose coverage they don’t like.”
Just after Lopez turned himself in to authorities, tens of thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets to rally for their leader and their cause.
Political tensions have been mounting over the past month between supporters of the late President Hugo Chavez’s successor, Maduro, who came into power in 2013, and the opposition, who are demanding Maduro's resignation and are protesting the nation's high inflation rates, product shortages and rapidly increasing crime. More than 100 protesters were arrested last week and more than 60 were injured, the AP reports.
On Monday, Maduro gave gave three U.S. Embassy officials 48 hours to leave the country and accused the Obama administration of siding with the opposition.
The U.S. State Department said Tuesday that these accusations were “baseless and false" and that the Venezuelan government was trying "to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela," per The Washington Post. However, The Guardian's Mark Weisbrot points out that the U.S. government has provided "$5m [million] in the 2014 U.S. federal budget for funding opposition activities inside Venezuela."
Around the world, thousands of opposition supporters gathered to show their solidarity with the student-led protests. In New York, hundreds turned up in Times Square on Monday to express their support for the protesters and took a moment of silence for the students killed last week. More in New York plan to convene in front of the United Nations on Wednesday.
Many have also taken to social media to show their support for the opposition’s cause.
In Venezuela, the state-run TV broadcasters have been barred from covering the protests, per the AP. On Feb. 14, a Facebook page called SOS Venezuela was set up and has become an online hub for information about movement. On Tuesday, the page had more than 120,000 likes.