Venezuela opposition leader Capriles banned from politics

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Venezuelan opposition leader and Governor of Miranda state Henrique Capriles in Caracas, Venezuela April 6, 2017Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Mr Capriles has stood twice as presidential candidate

A leading Venezuelan opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, has been formally banned for 15 years from public office.

Mr Capriles has been at the forefront of demands for a recall referendum on President Nicolas Maduro.

There was no immediate comment from the government on the ban.

In a heated press conference, Mr Capriles said he would continue in his post as governor of Miranda state and called for a protest march to be held on Saturday.

Mr Capriles, who has run twice as a presidential candidate, is seen as the opposition's best hope of defeating President Maduro in elections scheduled for next year.

The ban comes after a week of several large opposition-led protests in the capital Caracas. They accuse the government of stifling dissent.

On Thursday a man was shot dead during the demonstrations.

The Venezuelan comptroller's office has for a decade used a procedure known as "disqualification" that bans politicians from holding office if they are deemed to have committed irregularities in managing state resources.

The ruling said the ban on Mr Capriles was due to "administrative irregularities" in his role as governor.

Henrique Capriles is the latest in a series of prominent opposition politicians to be put out of action.

Two years ago, Maria Corina Machado, a former congresswoman was banned from office as was a former mayor, Daniel Ceballos.

In 2015 another prominent opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison on charges of inciting violence during anti-government protests in 2014.

Mr Lopez was himself barred from office in 2008 when he was the popular mayor of a Caracas district.

Over the last few days, authorities have accused Mr Capriles of inciting violence and bloodshed by leading protests against the unpopular president.

The protesters were demonstrating against a decision by the Venezuelan Supreme Court to assume control of the opposition-led congress.

Although the court's decision was quickly overturned, the street protests continued.

The Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, narrowly defeated Mr Capriles in the 2013 elections, a result that sparked controversy and debate as the opposition claimed electoral fraud.

Mr Maduro's government have said that a US-backed business elite is responsible for Venezuela's economic downturn and that it is trying to organise a coup to impose right wing rule.