April 26, 2019 / 3:12 PM / a month ago

Venezuela's opposition-run congress says lawmaker detained, violating immunity

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition-run National Assembly said on Friday that opposition lawmaker Gilber Caro had been detained, calling the move a violation of his parliamentary immunity in a Twitter post.

Venezuelan opposition lawmaker Gilber Caro is seen delivering a speech at a forum on human rights in Caracas, Venezuela June 12, 2018 in this still image taken from a video. REUTERS TV/ via REUTERS

Caro spent a year and a half in jail before being freed in June 2018. His detention comes as Juan Guaido, the National Assembly’s leader, presses on with his challenge to President Nicolas Maduro, arguing that his 2018 re-election was illegitimate. Guaido in January invoked the country’s constitution to assume an interim presidency.

Maduro retains the support of Venezuela’s military and key allies, including Russia and China. But Guaido has been recognized as the crisis-torn nation’s rightful leader by most Western countries, including the United States.

In March, Venezuelan authorities detained Guaido’s top aide, Roberto Marrero, accusing him of planning attacks against top political figures. The opposition has said those accusations were false.

“They think they scare us, but we are still here and we will remain in the streets,” Guaido said at a rally in central Aragua state, after news of Caro’s arrest.

Guaido added that 11 members of his interim presidential team had been summoned to appear before the Sebin intelligence agency, without providing further details.

Neither Venezuela’s Information Ministry nor the chief prosecutor’s office responded to requests for comment on Caro’s detention or Guaido’s statement about the Sebin.

Earlier this month, Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly - an all-powerful legislature controlled by the ruling Socialist Party and whose powers supersede those of the Assembly - approved a measure allowing for a trial of Guaido, who as a legislator also has parliamentary immunity.

Venezuela’s chief prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation of Guaido over his alleged links to “incidents of violence” in January, but it has not ordered his detention or officially charged him with any crime.

Caro had previously been jailed along with hundreds of other activists involved in protests against Maduro, according to human rights groups. Two of his allies in congress told reporters he was arrested early Friday morning at a restaurant in eastern Caracas.

“Gilber was not doing anything, he was eating an arepa like any Venezuelan,” opposition lawmaker Adriana Pichardo said, referring to the local cornbread central to the Venezuelan diet.

U.S. lawmakers including Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Representative Eliot Engel criticized Caro’s detention on Twitter. Organization of American States Secretary-General Luis Almagro wrote, “We demand his immediate liberation.”

Reporting by Caracas newsroom; Editing by James Dalgleish and Tom Brown

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