Venezuela frees opposition activist jailed over post-vote violence

CARACAS Sat May 18, 2013 2:34am BST

Retired General Antonio Rivero speaks during an interview with Reuters in Caracas April 27, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Retired General Antonio Rivero speaks during an interview with Reuters in Caracas April 27, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela on Friday released an opposition activist who had been jailed on accusations of inciting violence in the wake of President Nicolas Maduro's narrow election victory in April.

Retired General Antonio Rivero, who government critics described as the first political prisoner of Maduro's government, told a local television station he had been released after nearly three weeks in jail.

"Right now I'm just going to focus on my health," Rivero, who had been on hunger strike during part of his detention, told the Globovision station. "I urge Venezuela, in the name of God, to continue the struggle."

A court had charged him with "conspiracy" and "public instigation" after authorities showed a video of him helping coordinate protesters in the capital's streets during a wave of violence that killed 11 people in the wake of the April 14 vote.

Maduro and allies said opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost to Maduro by 1.5 percentage points, fomented the violence in an effort to seize power by force.

They also say anti-government demonstrators burned down state-run health clinics staffed by Cuban doctors, accusations that were later disputed by a prominent human rights group.

The country's congress set up a special commission staffed only by pro-government legislators to investigate the incidents.

Capriles describes Maduro as an illegitimate president and is challenging the results of the election in the country's top court, though few expect it to rule in his favour.

Days before Rivero's arrest, authorities jailed American filmmaker Tim Tracy on accusations that he was working as a U.S. spy and advising opposition student groups on how to destabilize the country.

His family said he was making a documentary, and U.S. officials dismiss the accusations as absurd.

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(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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