Christian Veron/Reuters

Spain halts riot-control gear exports to Venezuela amid fresh protests

Move comes after charges were leveled against Venezuelan opposition leader who supported student-led protests

Spain has indefinitely suspended the export of riot-control equipment to Venezuela’s government following weeks of unrest in the South American nation, where violence has been rising as police face sustained protests by the political opposition.

The suspension, announced Saturday, came a day after charges leveled against jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez triggered a fresh round of anti-government protests.

 Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo said his country has suspended the sales of riot-control gear because “it is logical not to add fuel to the fire when there is a conflict.”

The decision was made by a governmental panel on March 6, but has only now been confirmed publicly. Margallo said Spain has a special interest in Venezuela because more than 200,000 Spaniards live there.

Since early February, students backed by the Venezuelan opposition have staged near-daily protests against leftist President Nicolas Maduro over soaring crime, high inflation and shortages of essential goods.

Maduro – elected after the death of the country’s former leader and socialist icon Hugo Chavez – has lashed out at the demonstrations, branding them a “fascist” U.S.-backed plot to overthrow his government. Thirty-nine people have been killed and hundreds detained or injured in clashes with security forces.

Formal charges have been brought against opposition leader Lopez, Venezuela’s Attorney General Luis Ortega Diaz said at a news conference Friday. Lopez has been accused of inciting violence, arson, damage to property and conspiracy for his support of protests.

Lopez, an economist who studied at Harvard, has been held in a military prison since his Feb. 18 arrest in the midst of an opposition protest rally against Maduro.

Student-led protests began Feb. 4 in the western city of San Cristobal and spread to several other major cities, including the capital, Caracas. The government action stems from Lopez’s public support for the demonstrations that have rocked the country.

The United Nations office in Venezuela expressed deep concern Saturday over the “high human cost” of the anti-government protests.

Venezuela's attorney general admitted last month that demonstrators have been abused during weeks of protests, and 60  complaints – including murder allegations of leveled at police – are being investigated.

A U.N. statement said people had the right to protest peacefully, and rejected “any violent act, destruction of public and private property and obstruction to the free movement of citizens” by either side.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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