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CARACAS, Venezuela – The more-than-yearlong trial of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was nearing an end Friday as the imprisoned politician prepared to give his final remarks in a closed courtroom.
The hearing was delayed for hours as the court waited for one of Lopez's four co-defendants, 19-year-old Marco Coello, to appear. In the afternoon, the Prosecutor's Office announced that Coello caught a flight to Miami on Thursday.
Lopez is charged inciting violence in his role as leader of a protest movement in 2014 and could face more than 10 years in prison. His co-defendants are accused of colluding with him to hijack peaceful protests.
He denies calling for violence, saying he only called for peaceful protests, and his supporters say government forces were to blame for most of the clashes that broke out.
The four student protesters charged alongside Lopez had all been released on probation. Their parents seemed optimistic at a hearing earlier this week, saying the government rarely releases a person and then imprisons them again here. Coello spent more than 100 days in jail before being granted conditional release last year.
Lopez was expected to deliver his final remarks to the court after both sides concluded their closing arguments. The judge could issue a verdict immediately after.
Hundreds of his supporters gathered in the streets outside the court throughout the day sun to demand his release, though few thought it likely that he would be found innocent.
Opposition figures delivered statements calling on President Nicolas Maduro to roll back what they say has been a consistent policy of attacking and imprisoning critics. Maduro was in Qatar Friday, continuing a multi-nation tour to seek loans and action on oil prices as the socialist South American country's economy sinks deeper into recession.
As they have done for each hearing during the 13 months of proceedings, armed soldiers shut down the area around the courthouse ahead of the audience.
U.S. officials have made Lopez's release a key demand for normalizing diplomatic relations.