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article imageTrial winding down for popular Venezuela dissident leader

By AFP     Sep 4, 2015 in World

Jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez appeared in court Friday for the final phase of his trial on charges of inciting violence during protests that shook the country last year.

Scores of supporters gathered outside the court as Lopez arrived for the hearing, which could stretch over a matter of days.

Lopez, who has been held at a military prison since February 2014, faces up to 12 years in jail if convicted.

Numerous human rights groups have called for his release, condemning the case against him as politically motivated.

His lawyer says there have been serious irregularities in his trial, which has been held behind closed doors.

The judge admitted 138 witnesses for the prosecution but just one of the 50 witnesses and pieces of evidence submitted by the defense.

Lopez, a US-trained economist, is one of the main leaders of the radical opposition movement seeking to force the ouster of socialist President Nicolas Maduro's government.

He was a prominent figure during last year's protests, which erupted in response to violent crime, a sinking economy and severe shortages of basic goods.

Between February and June last year, 43 people were killed in protest-related violence.

Lopez was arrested on February 18, 2014, handing himself in to police after giving an impassioned speech to his supporters.

In May, the 44-year-old opposition leader staged a month-long hunger strike to pressure authorities to set a date for legislative elections.

He ended the strike after the vote was set for December 6. Opinion polls indicate Maduro's movement risks losing for the first time since his late mentor Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999.

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