Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela recalls ambassador to Spain over Rajoy comments

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy delivers a statement at the Senate in Madrid on 28 October, 2014. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Venezuela said Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had behaved like "the owner of the Americas"

The Venezuelan government has recalled its ambassador to Spain in protest at the support Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has voiced for a jailed Venezuelan opposition leader.

Mr Rajoy last week posted a Twitter message urging the release of Leopoldo Lopez, who was arrested in February for allegedly inciting violence.

Mr Lopez led mass protests against the socialist government earlier this year.

Venezuela said it would "review " its relations with Spain.

Venezuela and Spain have traded barbs before. In 2007, the then King of Spain, Juan Carlos, told the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez to "shut up" during a summit in Chile.

'Respect Venezuela'

On Tuesday, Venezuela accused Mr Rajoy of "interfering" in Venezuelan affairs.

Mr Rajoy, of the conservative People's Party, met Mr Lopez's wife last week and posted a photo of the meeting on Twitter, along with a call for him to be freed and protests allowed.

The post elicited an angry response from Venezuela's socialist president, Nicolas Maduro, who said on state television that Mr Rajoy "thinks he's a king, the owner of the Americas".

"You respect Venezuela, Mr Rajoy, as we respect the Spanish people," he added.

President Maduro also accused Mr Rajoy of trying to deflect attention from Spain's economic troubles, telling the Spanish leader to "go talk about the disaster you're creating for the Spanish people".

'Heightening tension'

Mr Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, says the socialist government is itself trying to shift attention away from Venezuela's economic problems, such as its soaring inflation rate of more than 60%.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Lilian Tintori has been campaigning for the release of her husband, Leopoldo Lopez

She argues the arrest of Mr Lopez and other opposition leaders is an attempt to silence dissident voices.

Mr Lopez was due to appear in court on Tuesday, but refused to attend saying that the court had refused to respond to a United Nations request to free him.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has called on the Venezuelan government to release Mr Lopez and last week the UN's High Commissioner on Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, also expressed his serious concern.

"The prolonged and arbitrary detention of political opponents and protestors in Venezuela is causing more and more concern internationally," he said.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Leopoldo Lopez has been in detention since he handed himself in to the authorities on 18 February

"It is only exacerbating the tensions in the country," he added.

Forty-three people from both sides of the political divide died during the opposition protests in major Venezuelan cities earlier this year.

The government says the demonstrations were part of a plan by the opposition to depose President Maduro.

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