Venezuelan government bans opposition figure from running for office
Leading Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles has been banned from running for office for 15 years, a move sure to ratchet up tensions amid a growing street-protest movement.
Mr Capriles reported the ban on his Twitter account, saying he had just been notified of the decision. There was no immediate comment from the government.
Leaders in the ruling socialist party had accused Mr Capriles in recent days of inciting violence through his leadership of a week of near-daily protests, many of which have ended in tear gas and rubber bullets.
President Nicolas Maduro called out Mr Capriles on his television show on Thursday night after tens of thousands of Venezuelans shut down capital city Caracas with a march against the socialist administration.
He said followers of "little Capriles" were seeking a bloodbath.
Authorities have been investigating Mr Capriles since the beginning of the year for what they say are administrative irregularities, including taking suspicious donations from abroad.
Mr Capriles is the most recognisable of the leaders behind the protest movement that has been roiling the country this week.
He is the governor of Miranda State and lost a hard-fought presidential election to Hugo Chavez in 2012.
The following year he was again the opposition's presidential candidate and lost to current president Mr Maduro by the slimmest of margins.
Among the opposition, he is considered moderate, having criticised a wave of protests in 2014 that led to scores of deaths.
Leopoldo Lopez, leader of the sometimes bloody 2014 protest movement, has been held in prison for the past three years after having been sentenced on what are widely seen as trumped-up charges of inciting political unrest.
This week's protests claimed their first victim on Thursday night as college student Jairo Ortiz was shot dead by an unknown assailant during a protest in a poor area on the outskirts of Caracas.
Mr Ortiz was a 19-year-old law student at a local university and had been planning to move to Colombia this summer, according to local news reports.
The protests were touched off by a Supreme Court ruling in late March nullifying congress.
The decision was walked back amid fierce domestic and international criticism, but opposition leaders say it revealed the government's authoritarian nature.
The opposition has been calling for immediate elections. With both Mr Capriles and Mr Lopez now out of action, it is unclear who the leading candidate in such an election would be.