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Outrage Follows Venezuelan Opposition Leader's Sentence

Lilian Tintori, wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, speaks to her husband's supporters in Caracas, Venezuela, Sept. 11, 2015.

The United States is expressing outrage at the jailing of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

Lopez was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison in connection with opposition-led protests last year that turned deadly when state forces clashed with demonstrators.

Samantha Power, the United States' U.N. ambassador, told VOA's Margaret Besheer that Lopez's trial was unfair and "it goes without saying that these charges on the basis of what Lopez did are absurd."

Power said Lopez's conviction was not going "to advance peace and prosperity and stability in Venezuela" at a time when the country is going through an economic crisis.

The U.S.-trained economist was convicted of inciting violence against the government in an attempt to force President Nicolas Maduro from office. Lopez, 44, is the founder of opposition party Popular Will.

Earlier, the White House said Maduro's government was using the justice system to attempt to silence critics.

"The decision to prosecute and sentence Lopez, and the conduct of his trial, have highlighted significant failures in the rule of law and judicial system in Venezuela,'' National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said.

Amnesty International said in a statement that Lopez's sentence showed "an utter lack of judicial independence and impartiality" in Venezuela.

"His only 'crime' was being leader of an opposition party in Venezuela," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas Director of Amnesty International. "With this decision, Venezuela is choosing to ignore basic human rights principles and giving the green light to more abuses."

The court rejected all but two defense witnesses, both of whom ultimately declined to testify, while letting the prosecution call more than 100 during the closed-door sessions, according to Lopez's attorneys.

Lopez insists he called only for peaceful protests, and his backers blame armed government supporters for much of the bloodshed last year that resulted in more than 40 deaths. Government officials said Lopez implicitly encouraged the violence.

More opposition protests have been scheduled for next week in response to the verdict.