POLITICS

One dead in clashes outside Venezuelan courthouse deciding jailed leader's fate

  • Pro-government protesters gather outside a Venezuelan courthouse as they await news from Lopez's hearing.

    Pro-government protesters gather outside a Venezuelan courthouse as they await news from Lopez's hearing.  (AP)

  • Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, in a Feb. 18, 2014 file photo.

    Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, in a Feb. 18, 2014 file photo.  (AP)

Supporters of a high-profile jailed Venezuelan opposition leader clashed with government loyalists Thursday, and at least one man died in the melee, outside a Caracas courthouse in anticipation of an impending sentence.

Members of Leopoldo Lopez's party arrived early in the morning to protest and pray, as they have dozens of times since Lopez's imprisonment 19 months ago. Lopez is charged with inciting violence in his role as the leader of a protest movement in 2014, and could face more than 10 years in prison.

Around midday, red-shirted government supporters showed up and began chanting that Lopez was a murderer and a terrorist. Some burned the orange flag of Lopez's political party and threw bottles and sticks at Lopez's wife as she passed a barricade to enter the court.

A line of police in riot gear separated the two sides, but were unable to prevent direct confrontations. 

There was at least one fatality — a 66-year-old man identified as Horacio Blanco, who was a supporter of Lopez. Two women were hurt.

A doctor at Vargas Hospital said on condition of anonymity that Blanco arrived at the medical facility with no vital signs. She said that the cause of death, which occurred as violence erupted outside the courthouse, remained undetermined pending an autopsy.

Tensions outside the courthouse intensified with the arrival of Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori. Government supporters began hurling bottles, sticks and other objects at her and the group that accompanied her. 

Some also set anti-government signs bearing the image of Lopez on fire.

After the Lopez supporters dispersed, members of Venezuela's ruling socialist party called for an all-day rally outside the courthouse.

U.S. officials have made Lopez's release a key demand for normalizing diplomatic relations.

Secretary of State John Kerry called Venezuela's foreign minister Tuesday to speak about the case, and met with Lopez's wife in Washington last week.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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