Venezuela opposition mayor Ceballos detained over unrest

General view of a barricade set up by anti-government activists in San Cristobal on 6 March, 2014 San Cristobal has been at the centre of anti-government protests which began in early February

Venezuelan intelligence agents have detained opposition mayor Daniel Ceballos on charges of inciting violence and fostering deadly protests.

Mr Ceballos, of the Popular Will party, is the mayor of San Cristobal, where the current wave of anti-government protests broke out six weeks ago.

His arrest comes a month after the party's leader, Leopoldo Lopez, was detained on similar charges.

The government accuses them of whipping up unrest to carry out a coup.

"This is an act of justice for a mayor who not only did not meet his obligations as required by law and the constitution, but also facilitated and supported all the irrational violence first unleashed in the city of San Cristobal," Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez said on state television.

He also said that a member of the National Guard was shot dead in San Cristobal on Wednesday during "vandalistic acts" by protesters.

At least 31 people have been killed in protest-related violence since the first demonstrations against lack of security took place in San Cristobal on 4 February.

'Repression'

Mr Ceballos was arrested in a hotel in the capital Caracas, by agents of Venezuela's intelligence service (SEBIN).

A man walks walks behind mock tombstones with the names of victims of violence, during a protest against Nicolas Maduro's government at Altamira square in Caracas March 19, 2014. Dozens of people, both supporters and opponents of the government, have died in the protests

He was in the capital to attend a meeting of opposition mayors, his aide said.

Mr Ceballos has been an outspoken critic of the tactics used by the security forces to police the protests which have disrupted life in the western city for six weeks.

He said the university students who led the protests have been unjustly targeted, and accused police and soldiers of using excessive force.

The protests have since spread to the capital Caracas and been joined by Venezuelans disgruntled by the country's skyrocketing inflation, shortages of some staple foods and Venezuela's high murder rate.

The opposition says the government is violently repressing the protests and trying to silence the administration's critics.

Jailed leaders

A number of opposition politicians have been charged in connection with the unrest, which they say is part of a government campaign to defame them.

Popular Will leader Leopoldo Lopez has been held for a month on charges of arson and conspiracy.

And on Wednesday, San Diego Mayor Enzo Scarano of the opposition MUD coalition was sentenced to 10 months in prison for failing to keep protesters from barricading streets in his northern city.

Venezuela's National Assembly has also voted to start a process to strip opposition politician Maria Corina Machado of her immunity, which could pave the way for her being charged with attempting to destabilise the government.

Opposition deputy Maria Corina Machado speaks during news conference in Caracas on 18 March, 2014 Maria Corina Machado could be stripped of her immunity by the National Assembly

President Nicolas Maduro accuses the opposition of planning a coup against his government and has blamed the violence on "murderous fascist groups".

He says he has repeatedly invited the opposition to the presidential palace for talks, but that they have refused to attend.

Earlier this week opposition leader Henrique Capriles agreed to meet the president, but no date has so far been set for the meeting.

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