Venezuela ex-mayor Ceballos sent to prison from house arrest

Former mayor Daniel Ceballos (C) looks out from a window next to his wife Patricia Ceballos, mayor of San Cristobal and their children at their house in Caracas August 12, 2015. REUTERS/Christian Veron

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan intelligence agents on Saturday took Daniel Ceballos, a former opposition mayor accused of fomenting opposition protests, to prison from house arrest in the capital of Caracas, according to his wife and the country’s interior ministry.

Ceballos was arrested in 2014 on accusations he helped lead violent unrest in the tumultuous western city of San Cristobal, where he was mayor. He denies the accusations.

Opposition leaders called his arrest an effort to quash dissent and describe Ceballos as a political prisoner. President Nicolas Maduro calls him a criminal who sought to destabilize the country, and denies Venezuela holds political prisoners.

Patricia de Ceballos said agents from the Sebin intelligence service arrived at their residence at around 3 a.m. saying they were going to conduct a medical exam for her husband, who was granted house arrest in 2015 for health reasons.

“They put him in an ambulance, and in the ambulance they showed us a notice of transfer to prison,” she said in a video posted on her Twitter feed.

The interior ministry said in a statement that Ceballos’ house arrest had been suspended because he had attempted to escape from his home and planned to stir up violence at an opposition demonstration planned for Sept. 1.

Venezuela has faced intense international pressure to free jailed opposition leaders including Ceballos and Leopoldo Lopez, another former mayor who was also imprisoned in 2014 in connection with anti-government demonstrations.

The issue complicated a rapprochement effort last year between Caracas and Washington, which have been at ideological loggerheads since the 14-year rule of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.

Maduro says Lopez and Ceballos are dangerous coup plotters intent on toppling his government, and blames them for more than 40 deaths during the 2014 protests.

Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Matthew Lewis