Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has ordered the expulsion of three US consular officials as protests rumble on. Meanwhile, the wanted opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez says he will face the possibility of arrest.
President Nicolas Maduro announced late on Sunday that he would expel three US consular officials, accusing them of links with students involved in anti-government protests.
Speaking on national television, Maduro said that the unnamed officials had infiltrated Venezuela's universities under the guise of consular work involving student visas.
"It's a group of US functionaries who are in the universities," Maduro said. "We've been watching them having meetings in the private universities for two months. They work in visas."
Maduro has made repeated claims that the US is working with the opposition as part of a plot to topple his Socialist government.
On Saturday, US officials voiced dismay over reports that an arrest warrant had been issued for the Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.
On Sunday, Lopez urged supporters to join him in a march to the Interior Ministry, saying he would face the possibility of being jailed. The opposition figure said that, after the march on Tuesday, he would present a petition demanding an investigation into the government's role in protesters' deaths.
"If anyone has decided to illegally arrest and jail me, you know I will be there to take on the persecution ... I have nothing to fear; I have not done anything illegal," said Lopez, who added that he would also be calling for an end to political repression and the disarmament of pro-government paramilitary militias.
Police step up search for Lopez
Authorities accused Lopez of murder and terrorism connected with the violence that has surrounded anti-government protests during the past week. On Wednesday, three protesters - two students and a pro-government demonstrator - were shot dead.
Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez confirmed on Sunday that an arrest warrant had been issued against Lopez for allegedly being responsible for the demonstrations and subsequent deaths. The home of Lopez' parents was searched by police late on Saturday, with security forces saying on Sunday that the hunt for him had been intensified.
Protesters have complained of rampant inflation of over 50 percent, as well as widespread shortages of basic goods such as toilet paper and milk. Oil-rich Venezuela remains mired in a deepening economic crisis, which critics blame on policies that Maduro inherited from fellow socialist Hugo Chavez.
Maduro, who was elected last year following the death of Chavez, claims the protests are a "coup d'etat in the making" and accuses Lopez, among others, of being a "fascist."
rc/av (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
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