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White House Weighs Options After Venezuelan Mayor's Arrest


Mitzy Capriles de Ledezma chants for the release of her husband, Mayor Antonio Ledezma, as national police officers guard intelligence service police headquarters in Caracas, Venezuela, Feb. 19, 2015.

The White House said Friday that it was considering "tools" to use against Venezuela after President Nicolas Maduro ordered the arrest of the Caracas mayor and accused the U.S. of backing a coup against the government.

A White House reporter asked spokesman Josh Earnest whether the U.S. was considering sanctions against Venezuela. Earnest said the State and Treasury departments were watching the situation and were considering "tools" that could be used to steer Venezuela in a better direction.

Earnest called charges that the U.S. was planning a coup against the Socialist government "ludicrous."

"The fact is the Venezuelan government should stop trying to blame the United States and other countries for events inside Venezuela," he said. "The Venezuelan government needs to deal with the grave situation it faces."

Police arrested Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma on Thursday. They kicked down the door to his office and fired warning shots into the air.

"I just saw how they took Ledezma out of his office as if he were a dog," opposition lawmaker Ismael Garcia tweeted, according to the Reuters news agency. "They broke down the doors without an arrest warrant."

The veteran opposition leader's wife, Mitzy Capriles de Ledezma, said she did not know where Ledezma was or whether he had been charged with a crime.

"He was abruptly taken away from his office," she said, adding that police "prevented all means of communicating" with him.

"They confiscated the car and motorcycle keys. There is no way of knowing how Antonio is doing," she said.

Maduro has nicknamed the mayor "The Vampire" and has accused him and a number of military officers of planning a U.S.-backed coup. Reuters reported Ledezma recently had drawn the government's ire for signing a document calling for "a national transition," construed as a coup attempt.

Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, have routinely accused the U.S. of conspiring to topple their governments, but they have never provided any evidence.

Last week, the mayor was accused by Socialist Party official Diosdada Cabello of plotting last year to kill another opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, to foment political unrest, Reuters reported.

Ledezma's arrest came a year after opposition protests spread throughout Venezuela, leading to clashes between demonstrators and police. Dozens have been killed.

Maduro is facing numerous challenges in Venezuela, including a shrinking economy, an unhappy electorate, and shortages of basic foods and household products.

VOA’s Spanish branch contributed to this report. The Associated Press and Reuters also provided information.

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