After a marathon session at the heavily guarded Palace of Justice, judge Susana Barreiros ruled Lopez, 44, a U.S. educated hardline opponent of socialist President Nicolas Maduro arrested in February last year, had masterminded the violence. He was ordered to return to the Ramo Verde military jail to serve a sentence of 13 years and nine months, his lawyer and supporters said.
               
Lopez's case has become a cause celebre for opposition supporters over what they deem the Maduro government's trampling of human rights. The U.S. government, the United Nations and international rights groups had all called for Lopez's release.
               
"This is not only an attack on liberty and legality ... but also a provocation to the Venezuelan people," said Jesus Torrealba, leader of the opposition coalition which includes Lopez's Popular Will party.
          
He is the scion of wealthy families and a direct descendant of the sister of Latin American independence hero Simon Bolivar as well as of Venezuela's first president Cristobal Mendoza. That blue blood creates barriers with the poor, and his confrontational style puts off some moderate opposition figures.
               
They point to his attempts to unseat President Hugo Chavez in 2002. During a failed coup attempt, Lopez helped organize the illegal arrest of one of Chavez's cabinet members. Earlier in the day, Lopez supporters and government backers clashed outside the trial, with one opposition activist dying of a heart attack, according to Popular Will.
              
Relatives of government supporters who died in the 2014 violence held a vigil outside the court yesterday.'Lopez caused many deaths,' said Delcy Diaz, 45, who works in a government run welfare project.

 

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