Carlos Hernandez / AP

Venezuela seizes mayor accused in coup plot

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro said Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma is to be punished for ‘all his crimes’

Police broke into Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma's office and carted off a longtime critic of Venezuela's socialist government, adding to tensions on the anniversary of the outbreak of protests that paralyzed the nation a year ago.

Dozens of men in flak jackets and camouflage uniforms smashed down the door of Ledezma's office and forcibly carried him out of the building.

As news of the incursion spread across the capital, people spontaneously banged pots from their windows in protest while drivers tapped rhythms on their car horns in rush hour traffic. As night fell, a few dozen people vented their anger in front of the headquarters of the intelligence service police, where Ledezma was thought to be.

President Nicolás Maduro took to television and radio to say that Ledezma, one of the most vocal opposition leaders, would be punished for trying to sow unrest in Venezuela, which is struggling with severe economic problems.

"He'll be held accountable for all his crimes," Maduro said in a speech that TV and radio stations across the country were required to carry.

Last week Maduro named Ledezma among government critics and Western powers he accused of plotting to bring down the government, one of more than a dozen such denunciations Maduro has made since taking power in 2013. Ledezma mocked the accusation in multiple interviews, saying the real destabilizing force in Venezuela was the government's corruption.

Ledezma won office in 2008, beating a member of the socialist party led by late President Hugo Chávez. The ruling socialist party subsequently transferred nearly all of Ledezma's powers to a newly created government entity.

Ledezma has long opposed the socialist leadership and a hunger strike he staged after federal authorities stripped his office of most duties made him a symbol for what the opposition calls the government's efforts to punish elected officials who do not fall in line.

Tensions have been running high in Venezuela, with the anniversary this week of the start of anti-government street protests that choked the country with tear gas and smoke from flaming barricades and resulted in more than 40 deaths. National police arrested several other mayors and former mayors during that unrest, including Leopoldo Lopez, considered by human rights groups as Latin America's highest-profile political prisoner.

Allies of Ledezma called for more protests Friday to demand his immediate release, a call echoed by Human Rights Watch.

Wire services

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