Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela crisis: Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma flees country

Former mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma (2L) meets his wife Mitzy Capriles (C) and daughters at his arrival to Adolfo Suarez Madrid Barajas Airport on November 18, 2017 in Madrid, Spain. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The opposition politician is reunited with his family in Madrid

The mayor of Caracas has escaped from his long-term house arrest in Venezuela, fleeing across the border to Colombia and then on to Spain.

Antonio Ledezma had been confined since early 2015 on charges of supporting an attempted coup, which he denies.

The 62-year-old is a vocal opponent of President Nicolás Maduro, whom the US has labelled a dictator.

Colombia confirmed Mr Ledezma entered the country on Friday. He later flew to Spain where he was met by his family.

He told journalists he would work from exile to secure the release of political prisoners.

"Let's not permit that Venezuela dies in our hands," he said.

It is unclear how he escaped and made it to the border undetected.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The mayor had spent more than 1,000 days in some form of detention

Venezuela's El Nacional newspaper said his family had also left Venezuela. Security officials have raided his home.

Former Colombian President Andres Pastrana tweeted: "Welcome to freedom!" in response to the news.

The Venezuelan president mocked him in a TV broadcast, saying: "The vampire is flying free in the world."

Mayor Ledezma had recently passed 1,000 days in detention.

Along with opposition leader Leopoldo López, who remains under house arrest, Mr Ledezma is one of the best-known opponents of President Maduro.

They are accused of inciting violence during anti-government protests in 2014.

Both were rearrested in August in the wake of further protests. At the time, the country's Supreme Court said it had received intelligence reports saying they planned to flee the country.

That prompted US President Donald Trump to warn the "Maduro dictatorship" over the treatment of "political prisoners".

He said the US held the Venezuelan president "personally responsible for the health and safety of Mr López, Mr Ledezma and any others seized".

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