Jailed German-Turkish reporter sees Turkey drifting toward fascism

Jailed German-Turkish reporter sees Turkey drifting toward fascism

BERLIN (Reuters) – Deniz Yucel, a German-Turkish journalist detained by Ankara since February, has accused Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan of subjecting his entire society to a “regime of fear” and said Turkey is drifting toward fascism.

Yucel, 44, a correspondent for the newspaper Die Welt, made the remarks in a lengthy interview with the German newspaper die tageszeitung to be published on Saturday.

Turkish authorities arrested Yucel, on Feb. 14 on charges of propaganda in support of a terrorist organization, during a wave of arrests prompted by a failed coup attempt in July 2016.

Germany is backing a complaint filed by Yucel with the European Court of Human Rights, and has repeatedly called for him and other Germans being held in Turkey to be released.

The detentions have contributed to a sharp deterioration in relations between the two NATO allies.

In total, Ankara has jailed more than 50,000 people pending trial and suspended or dismissed some 150,000 state workers including teachers, judges and soldiers since the coup, which Turkey blames on the movement of U.S-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen has denied any role, and condemned the coup.

Yucel told the newspaper he remained in solitary confinement at Silivri prison, west of Istanbul. “Solitary confinement is torture,” he said.

Yucel also said that even his prison guards were afraid of making a wrong move: “A regime of fear is not directed solely at its critics, but also affects members of the oppressive apparatus.”

He said Erdogan himself had the most to fear: “He knows what to expect if he loses power, and that is why he is subjecting the whole society to his regime of fear.”

Yucel said he hoped the European Court would act quickly on his case after a Nov. 28 deadline for Turkey to submit its position, but that he was not sure what to expect.

He said that, like many of Erdogan’s critics, he was disappointed that the court had rejected cases brought by teachers and government workers affected by the crackdown, which Erdogan says is necessary to guarantee Turkey’s stability.

“But I also know the European Court of Human Rights was founded to deal with individual human rights violations, not to stop a whole country drifting into fascism,” he said.

The newspaper said the interview had been conducted in writing via Yucel’s lawyers.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Venezuela’s new chief prosecutor vows to jail protest leaders

Delcy Rodriguez (R), president of the National Constituent Assembly, speaks next to Venezuela's chief prosecutor, Tarek William Saab, during a meeting of the Truth Commission in Caracas, Venezuela August 16, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

By Hugh Bronstein

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela will hunt down and jail leaders of violent protests that have rocked the country since April, its new top prosecutor said on Thursday, a day before a hate crimes law was expected to be approved despite fears that it will be used to crush dissent.

The new law “against hate and intolerance,” denounced by rights groups as a sham aimed at persecuting the opposition, was set to be approved on Friday by a new legislative superbody elected last month at the behest of President Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro loyalist Delcy Rodriguez, head of the body known as the constituent assembly, said the law would be passed before the weekend. She spoke to the assembly following a speech by chief prosecutor Tarek Saab, appointed by the assembly early this month, who vowed to track down the leaders of protests in which more than 120 people have died since the start of April.

“It will be a point of honor for the public prosecutor’s office to identify who was responsible for each of the hate crimes that occurred in this country,” Saab, Maduro’s ex-human rights ombudsman, shouted during a speech to the assembly.

“We will search the cameras, videos, photographs. We will get images of each one of them to make sure they pay for having killed, for having hurt people and left orphans behind,” he said to a standing ovation by the Socialist Party-dominated assembly.

The international community, however, has pointed at the Maduro government, not opposition demonstrators, when assigning blame for deaths.

Venezuelan security forces and pro-government groups were believed responsible for the deaths of at least 73 demonstrators since April, the United Nations said in an Aug. 8 report.

Abuses of protesters, including torture, were part of “the breakdown of the rule of law” in the oil-rich but economically-ailing nation, the report said.

Those found guilty of expressing hate or intolerance will be punished with up to 25 years in jail, according to the vaguely worded hate crimes bill.

Groups like Human Rights Watch say it would give Maduro’s government carte blanche to take opposition leaders out of circulation ahead of October gubernatorial elections.

The assembly has established a truth commission to investigate opposition candidates to ensure that any who were involved in violent protests would be barred from running for governorships, Rodriguez said.

The opposition, which won control of congress in 2015 only to see its decisions nullified by Maduro’s loyalist Supreme Court, boycotted the July 30 election of the constituent assembly. The body has sweeping powers to re-write Venezuela’s constitution and even give Maduro permission to rule by decree.

(Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Editing by Michael Perry; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Iran denies appeal of jailed Princeton student: university

Xiyue Wang, a naturalized American citizen from China, arrested in Iran last August while researching Persian history for his doctoral thesis at Princeton University, is shown with his wife and son in this family photo released in Princeton, New Jersey, U.S. on July 18, 2017. Courtesy Wang Family photo via Princeton University/Handout via REUTERS

By Yeganeh Torbati

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iranian authorities have denied the appeal of a Princeton University student who had been convicted on espionage charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison, the university and his wife said on Thursday.

Xiyue Wang, a history doctoral student and U.S. citizen who was conducting dissertation research in Iran in 2016 when he was detained by Iranian authorities, was accused by Iran of “spying under the cover of research,” a claim his family and university deny.

“Iranian authorities have denied Xiyue Wang’s appeal of his conviction and 10-year prison sentence for espionage that he did not attempt or commit,” Princeton University said in a statement. “We are distressed that his appeal was denied, and that he remains unjustly imprisoned.”

It was not immediately clear when exactly Wang’s appeal was denied. News of his detention in Iran and his 10-year sentence first came in mid-July.

“I am devastated that my husband’s appeal has been denied, and that he continues to be unjustly imprisoned in Iran on groundless accusations of espionage and collaboration with a hostile government against the Iranian state,” Wang’s wife, Hua Qu, said in a statement on Princeton’s website. “Our young son and I have not seen Xiyue in more than a year, and we miss him very much.”

Iran had said Wang was an American spy.

Qu said she worries about Wang’s health and well-being while he is in prison.

“We hope the Iranian officials can release him immediately so he can resume his studies at home and so that our family will be together again,” she said.

A spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A State Department official declined to offer specific information on Wang’s case, citing privacy concerns.

“We call for the immediate release of all U.S. citizens unjustly detained in Iran so they can return to their families,” the official said.

President Donald Trump has taken a hard line against Iran and his administration has vowed to counter what it sees as Iran’s destabilizing policies in the Middle East.

Last month, the White House said Trump “is prepared to impose new and serious consequences on Iran unless all unjustly imprisoned American citizens are released and returned,” though it did not specify what those consequences might be.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

Canadian pastor returns home after release from N. Korean prison

FILE PHOTO - South Korea-born Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim stands during his trial at a North Korean court in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang, North Korea on December 16, 2015. REUTERS/KCNA/File Photo

By Jim Finkle

TORONTO (Reuters) – A Canadian pastor who was imprisoned in North Korea for more than two years has arrived home in Canada, where he was resting after being reunited with his family on Saturday, a family spokeswoman said.

Hyeon Soo Lim, formerly the senior pastor at one of Canada’s largest churches, had disappeared on a mission to North Korea in early 2015. He was sentenced to hard labor for life in December 2015 on charges of attempting to overthrow the Pyongyang regime.

North Korea’s KCNA news agency said on Wednesday that the 62-year-old Lim had been released on humanitarian grounds, suggesting his health was poor. His family later said he was not in critical condition.

Lim’s release comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, though authorities have not said there is any connection between his release and efforts to defuse the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program.

Family members will hold a Saturday afternoon press conference at his church, Light Presbyterian Church in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, said spokeswoman Lisa Pak.

It was not clear if Pastor Lim would appear at the press conference, according to Pak, who said he would attend Sunday services at his church.

The Canadian government issued a statement on Saturday, saying it joined Lim’s family and congregation in celebrating his homecoming.

“Canada has been actively engaged on Mr. Lim’s case at all levels, and we will continue to support him and his family now that he has returned,” the statement said.

Lim’s family in June urged the Canadian government to bolster efforts to seek Lim’s release, following the death of Otto Warmbier, an American student who died days after being released from a North Korean prison in a coma.

Footage from Japan’s ANN television showed Lim walking on a tarmac next to Canada’s national security adviser, Daniel Jean, at the Yokota Air Base on the outskirts of Tokyo, in a stop en route to his home.

(Reporting by Jim Finkle in Toronto; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Mary Milliken)

Venezuela jails opposition leaders in new crackdown on opponents

Venezuela jails opposition leaders in new crackdown on opponents

By Corina Pons and Alexandra Ulmer

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela jailed two leading critics of President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday in a fresh blow to the opposition after the election of a new political body with sweeping powers to strengthen the hand of the leftist government.

The United States imposed sanctions on Maduro on Monday, calling him a “dictator” for Sunday’s election of a constituent assembly that the opposition boycotted and denounced as an affront to democracy.

In a statement announcing the jailing of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and veteran politician Antonio Ledezma, the pro-government Supreme Court said they were planning to flee the country and had violated terms of their house arrest by making political statements and speaking to media.

But government opponents called the abrupt removal of the men from their homes by security forces in nighttime raids a sign of Maduro’s determination to silence rivals. It was a view shared by U.S. President Donald Trump, who issued a statement condemning “the actions of the Maduro dictatorship.”

“Mr. Lopez and Mr. Ledezma are political prisoners being held illegally by the regime,” it said, calling “for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners.”

About 120 people have been killed in more than four months of anti-government street protests, including at least 10 during Sunday’s vote.

Maduro says the constituent assembly was designed to restore peace to Venezuela. Lopez and Ledezma had called for protests against Sunday’s vote. In addition to rewriting the constitution, the legislative superbody will have the power to dissolve the opposition-led congress, eliminating any institutional check on Maduro’s powers.

Lopez had been held more than three years in a military jail until last month, when he was unexpectedly released in what was seen as a potential breakthrough in the country’s political standoff.

Attempts to get the opposition and the government to reach a negotiated deal subsequently floundered, however, and allies said Lopez, 46, may have been jailed again because he rejected government proposals.

“They have kidnapped Leopoldo Lopez because he simply would not break under the pressures and false promises of the regime,” said Freddy Guevara, a legislator in the Popular Will party led by Lopez.

A U.S.-educated economist and former mayor in Caracas, Lopez is beloved by some in the opposition for his hard line anti-government stance and has become an international cause celebre.

The government sees him as an elitist coup-monger, and even some opposition sympathizers have criticized him for being hot-headed and authoritarian.

In a sign of heightening tensions, Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz said Beatriz Ruiz and Jose Fernando Nunez, both recently appointed judges of an alternative Supreme Court by the opposition parliament, took refuge in Chile’s embassy in Caracas on Tuesday and may be granted political asylum.

The U.S. Congress, meanwhile, mulled possible additional measures aimed at influencing Maduro. Senator Ben Cardin, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Monday’s sanctions against the Venezuelan leader were not enough, and that punitive economic measures targeting the country’s vital oil sector may be in order.

The United States is Venezuela’s No. 1 crude importer. Actions targeting Venezuelan oil would likely heap more damage onto an economy already suffering from a deep recession, food shortages and the world’s highest inflation rate.

“Our objective needs to be to help the people of Venezuela through this extremely dangerous humanitarian crisis … and ultimately to get Venezuela back on a democratic path,” Cardin said.

AN ARREST FORETOLD

Lopez himself suspected he would be detained again, and had recorded a video alongside his wife Lilian Tintori in which he urged Venezuelans to keep fighting if he was put back behind bars.

“If you’re seeing this video it’s precisely because that’s what happened, they jailed me again, illegally and unjustly,” said Lopez, in the video shown on social media on Tuesday.

Blamed by many for rising poverty in Venezuela, Maduro has faced almost daily protests demanding freedom for jailed politicians, early elections to replace him and permitted entry of humanitarian aid such as food and medicines.

Lopez and Ledezma were both taken from their homes to Ramo Verde, a military jail in a slum area about an hour’s drive from the capital, according to lawyers and family.

Lopez was originally arrested for his role in leading street demonstrations against Maduro. Ledezma, a 62-year-old veteran politician, had been arrested on charges of plotting a coup.

Condemnation of Tuesday’s arrests also came from the United Nations human rights chief, the president of the European Parliament and other governments.

“We express our solidarity with Leopoldo Lopez, Antonio Ledezma and other political prisoners in Venezuela,” Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said on Twitter.

(Additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth, Eyanir Chinea, Diego Ore, Hugh Bronstein, Fabian Cambero and Andreina Aponte in Caracas, Tom Miles in Geneva, Sarah White in Madrid, Patricia Zengerle and Yeganeh Torbati in Washington D.C., Mitra Taj in Lima, Adriana Barrera in Mexico City and Robert-Jan Bartunek in Brussels; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer and Brian Ellsworth; Editing by W Simon and Tom Brown)

At least 28 killed in bloody Mexican prison fight

Riot police enter a prison after a riot broke out at the maximum security wing in Acapulco, Mexico, July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Troy Merida

By Uriel Sanchez

ACAPULCO, Mexico (Reuters) – At least 28 inmates were killed when a brutal fight broke out in a prison in the Mexican Pacific resort of Acapulco on Thursday, one of the worst outbreaks of violence in the country’s troubled penal system in recent years.

Acapulco is the biggest city in Guerrero, one of Mexico’s most lawless states and a center of opium poppy production that has been a major concern to U.S. officials.

The prison carnage was particularly embarrassing to Mexico as it came the same day U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was visiting Guerrero, in Mexico’s southwest.

Guerrero state security official Roberto Alvarez told reporters the fight broke out between rival gangs in the maximum-security wing of the prison. In addition to 28 dead, three people were injured, he said.

Authorities found bodies throughout the wing, inside and outside the kitchen, as well as the area for conjugal visits, he said. A law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters four of the dead were decapitated.

Alvarez told Reuters the prison was close to 30 percent over capacity. It was built for 1,624 inmates but had 1,951 men and 110 women behind its walls, he said.

Despite reports of gunfire in the prison, all the casualties were due to wounds from sharp instruments, such as the improvised weapons that are fashioned by inmates, Alvarez said.

Violent crime in Mexico has jumped in recent months and 2017 is on track to be one of its bloodiest on record.

The number of murder cases in the first five months of 2017 jumped nearly 30 percent and murder investigations hit a record high in May.

Drug gangs have been battling for control amid a power vacuum following the January deportation of Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to the United States.

The United States and Mexico are discussing how to crack down on the cartels now that most of the established capos have been killed or captured in a decade-long, military-led campaign.

Kelly, one of the main links between Mexico’s government and the Trump administration on migration and security cooperation, arrived in Mexico on Wednesday and has held meetings with other top officials, including President Enrique Pena Nieto.

He visited a military base outside Acapulco on Thursday to meet Mexico’s army and navy chiefs.

Kelly discussed the military’s efforts to battle drug traffickers and observed the deployment of troops to destroy opium poppy fields, the defense ministry said in a statement.

Acapulco, one of Mexico’s most famous beach resorts, was once a playground for Hollywood stars but in recent years has been roiled by vicious gang warfare. It is now ranked one of the most murderous cities in the world.

The past week has been particularly bloody in Mexico.

On Wednesday, at least 14 people were killed in a shootout in the northern state of Chihuahua, while 17 suspected gang members were shot dead by police late on Friday near Mazatlan in Guzman’s home state of Sinaloa.

Thursday’s fight is the worst outbreak of violence inside a Mexican prison since 49 people died early last year in a battle between members of the feared Zetas drug cartel and rivals at a prison in the northern industrial city of Monterrey.

(Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz, Gabriel Stargardter and Dave Graham; Editing by Sandra Maler, Bill Trott and Paul Tait)

Turkish PM urges opposition head to call off 20-day protest march

Supporters of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) join party's leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu during the second day of a protest, dubbed a "justice march", against the detention of the CHP lawmaker Enis Berberoglu, in the outskirts of Ankara, Turkey June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

By Daren Butler and Tuvan Gumrukcu

ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s prime minister urged the head of the main opposition party on Friday to end a 425 kilometer (265 mile) march from Ankara to Istanbul in protest over the jailing of one of his lawmakers, saying justice “cannot be sought on the streets”.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, 68, head of the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), set out on the march on Thursday after Enis Berberoglu was jailed for 25 years on spying charges. He was seen off by thousands of supporters and has garnered much attention in a country where government dominates the media.

Kilicdaroglu trudged along a highway outside Ankara on Friday dressed in dark slacks and blue shirt. Sunburned and wearing a cap, he carried a sign that said “Justice”.

Rights groups and government critics, including members of Kilicdaroglu’s CHP, say Turkey is sliding toward authoritarianism, citing a crackdown that followed last year’s failed coup that has seen more than 50,000 people jailed and 150,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs.

“I advise Kilicdaroglu to desist from this act,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters. “Justice cannot be sought on the streets, Turkey is a state of law… Even if we don’t like a court’s ruling, we have to respect it.”

Berberoglu was accused of giving the Cumhuriyet newspaper a video it used as the basis of a May 2015 report that alleged trucks owned by the state intelligence service (MIT)were stopped and found to contain arms and ammunition headed for Syria.

Berberoglu is the first CHP lawmaker to be jailed in the government crackdown, which has seen eleven members of parliament from the pro-Kurdish opposition party jailed.

Kilicdaroglu has called the arrest “lawless” and motivated by the presidential palace, a reference to President Tayyip Erdogan. His march, planned to end at the Istanbul prison where Berberoglu is being held, is expected to take more than 20 days.

‘DEMOCRACY’

“We have been, and will be, calling and defending justice, justice, justice, and democracy, democracy, democracy,” he told reporters during his march. “No matter what they say.”

Turkey’s justice minister said Kilicdaroglu was trying to foment opposition to the judicial system.

“It is not possible to break the balance of the scales of justice by walking on roads,” Bekir Bozdag said.

Erdogan acknowledged the trucks belonged to the MIT but said they carried aid to ethnic Turkmens battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Islamic State, and not weapons for rebels.

Erdogan accused Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul of undermining Turkey’s reputation and vowed Dundar would “pay a heavy price”.

Last year, Dundar and Gul were sentenced to at least five years jail in a related case. The prosecutor is now seeking another 10 years for the two over the report on the trucks. Dundar is being tried in absentia after leaving Turkey. Gul remains in the country and free while his case is in process.

(Writing by David Dolan; editing by Ralph Boulton)

A Bible and a cell: a new life for Jakarta’s high-flying Christian governor

Supporters of former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama hold a small rally outside the gate of the Mobile Police Brigade or Brimob headquarters where he is being detained, in Depok, south of Jakarta, Indonesia May 10, 2017 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Yulius Satria Wijaya/ via REUTERS

By Ed Davies

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Jakarta’s once hugely popular governor is being held in a simple room at a high-security detention center, his only comforts a Bible and visitors twice a week. It’s a grim new life following his conviction for insulting Islam in Muslim-majority Indonesia.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was hurriedly transferred to the high-security police facility in a suburb of the city early on Wednesday after his supporters surrounded the Jakarta jail he was initially sent to.

His sister said the family also feared his life was in danger from furious Islamists.

“The religious people have been saying in the mosques that his blood is haram (forbidden) and that killing him is good,” Fifi Lety Indra, the sister and head of his legal team, told Reuters. “This is necessary protection and it gives us peace and comfort that he’s there.”

His two-year imprisonment on Tuesday was much harsher than the suspended sentence the prosecution had sought for the ethnic-Chinese Christian governor, prompting warnings that Islam is creeping into politics and the judiciary of the secular nation.

The blasphemy conviction is a stunning downfall for the close ally of President Joko Widodo. Brash and unafraid to take on the moneyed elite, Purnama – popularly known by his Chinese nickname ‘Ahok’ – was widely admired for his no-nonsense drive to modernize a chaotic city long plagued by traffic and flooding.

His fortunes turned last September, when he was seeking re-election. He said his political rivals were deceiving people by using a verse from the Koran to say Muslims should not be led by a non-Muslim. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

Purnama denied the blasphemy allegation but apologized for the comments. But hardline groups drew hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets of Jakarta, calling for him to be sacked and jailed for insulting Islam’s holy book.

Popular sentiment turned against him after those demonstrations and he lost his bid for another term as governor in elections this year. His trial, which began late last year, took religious tensions in Indonesia to their highest in years.

BLOCKING TRAFFIC

Purnama was initially taken to Cipinang Penitentiary in East Jakarta, a Dutch colonial-era high-security prison notorious for its overcrowding and home to convicted drug offenders and Islamist militants.

He was moved to a police compound in Depok on the outskirts of Jakarta because his supporters were blocking traffic around the Cipinang prison. Some even attempted to topple a barbed-wire fence there.

His sister Indra brought their mother to meet him in Depok on her birthday.

“We met him in prison with our Muslim siblings, we hugged, we cried. The whole thing happened so fast,” Indra said.

Though Purnama was born to non-Muslim parents and is a Christian, he was adopted by a Muslim family on the tiny island of Belitung, off Sumatra.

He does not have a phone or a television in the police facility, and Indra said the only book he took with him was a Bible. “He loves reading his Bible. He has it with him and he can pray whenever he wants,” she said.

Purnama was allowed to bring his own clothes and toiletries, she said. “I can say he’s being treated very well and humanely. We are very grateful for that.”

SENTENCE

Indra said he is in a “temporary holding room” but is likely to be moved to a private cell soon. He will be allowed visitors twice a week for two hours each time, she said.

Purnama’s legal team is preparing an appeal to challenge his prison sentence.

His lawyers have also submitted a request to the Jakarta High Court to have his sentence commuted to a ban on him traveling outside Jakarta.

Purnama was due to stay in office until October, when the winner of April’s run-off election, Anies Baswedan, will take over.

Indra paid tribute to President Widodo, under whom Purnama had served as deputy governor of Jakarta before taking charge of the city when Widodo won the presidency in 2014.

“We understand how difficult the situation is for him but he’s a wise man,” she said. “He and my brother have a beautiful bond of friendship still.”

(Additional reporting by Fergus Jensen; Editing by John Chalmers and Bill Tarrant)

Venezuelan opposition activists march to Leopoldo Lopez’ jail

Opposition supporters attend a rally in support of political prisoners and against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, in Los Teques, Venezuela April 28, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello

By Girish Gupta

LOS TEQUES, Venezuela (Reuters) – Hundreds of activists marched on Friday to the hilltop jail of Venezuela’s best-known detained opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez in the latest of a month of protests against the socialist government.

Security forces blocked access to the decrepit-looking penitentiary next to a slum in Los Teques, an hour’s drive from the capital Caracas, as the demonstrators shouted “Leopoldo!” and held signs reading “No To Dictatorship!”

This month’s wave of protests against President Nicolas Maduro’s government has led to at least 29 deaths in the worst unrest since 2014 rallies championed by Lopez, who was arrested then and convicted of instigating violence.

Venezuela’s opposition is demanding elections, autonomy for the legislature where they have a majority, a humanitarian aid channel from abroad to alleviate an economic crisis, and freedom for more than 100 jailed anti-Maduro activists.

Supporters say Lopez, the U.S.-educated leader of hardline Popular Will party, and others are political prisoners who symbolize Maduro’s lurch into dictatorship.

Maduro says all are behind bars for legitimate crimes, and calls Lopez, 45, a violent hothead intent on promoting a coup.

“This shows yet again the fear Nicolas Maduro has of people in the street,” said Popular Will legislator Juan Mejia at the National Guard barriers outside Ramo Verde jail.

Some inhabitants of a nearby slum came out of their homes to cheer as the protesters marched by.

“We would never have marched here before because it was very dangerous and pro-Chavista,” said demonstrator and marketing consultant Kailee Shima, 36, referring to the ruling “Chavista” movement named for Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez.

Elsewhere, relatives of imprisoned activists and supporters turned up at other jails, including the Caracas headquarters of the state intelligence service Sebin.

“We are opposite one of the dictatorship’s iconic prisons where they keep dozens of political prisoners, opposite the biggest torture center in the land,” said another opposition lawmaker Gaby Arellano.

Government officials accuse the opposition of inventing torture stories to sway international opinion against the Maduro government and create the conditions for a foreign intervention of the South American oil producer.

The opposition coalition, which now enjoys majority support after long being in the shadow of “Chavismo” especially during the 14-year rule of Chavez himself, is trying to keep the pressure on Maduro with daily protests.

(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

Anti-Putin protesters get a smart phone app to help get out of jail

Alexander Litreev, developer of the "Red Button" phone application used to tackle police detention of protesters at demonstrations across the country, poses for a picture in Moscow, Russia, April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

By Parniyan Zemaryalai

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Anti-Kremlin protesters who run the regular risk of being detained by the police are being given a helping hand: A smart phone app that allows them to instantly inform others where and when they have been arrested.

Russia faces a presidential election next year, which Vladimir Putin is expected to contest, and was last month shaken by large anti-government protests. More are planned.

The result of a collaboration between a Russian firm, a human rights group and an opposition movement, the notification system, called Red Button, automatically transmits the location and emergency contact details of a detained protester.

That, says its St Petersburg-based developer Alexander Litreev, should allow others to act quickly to help free them as it will include details of the police station where the individual is being held.

“Using this information, human rights defenders can help this person in some way, like sending him a lawyer,” Litreev told Reuters in an interview.

“When I see that people are being detained and experiencing violence at the hands of the authorities, and people can’t do anything about it, I think this must be fought against,” he said.

Litreev said he sympathized with the country’s liberal opposition and sometimes attended protests himself.

President Vladimir Putin remains by far the most popular politician in Russia, but opponents argue he keeps a check on dissent through control of the media, especially television, and limiting protest.

In developing the app, he partnered with the Open Russia foundation, founded by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and OVD-Info, a human rights organization that monitors detentions.

The app will also allow observers to track how protests unfold as it is linked to a special Twitter page that will generate maps and notifications.

It is currently available for devices on iOS and Android and, according to Litreev, some 4,000 users have already downloaded the app, which is free. A version for Windows will launch in the summer.

The alert system is due to go live on April 29 — the day when Open Russia has called for nationwide demonstrations against the government. Another protest, organized by opposition politician Alexei Navalny, is scheduled for June 12.

(Editing by Andrew Osborn and)