CARACAS – Police arrested nine regional leaders of the opposition UNT party on suspicion they were involved in arson at a government office, Venezuelan Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami said.
“Now you won’t say they’re political prisoners,” the minister told a press conference in mentioning that, aside from those in custody, four other regional leaders of the UNT are fugitives, including ex-presidential candidate Manuel Rosales.
El Aissami named among the fugitives Carlos Benavidez, president of the Ranchers’ Association in one of the municipalities of the northwestern state of Zulia, where the UNT was founded.
The headquarters of the National Land Insititute, or INTI, in Santa Barbara, Zulia, was torched on Jan. 8 in an action described by President Hugo Chavez as “terrorist.”
No one was hurt in the fire.
The attack was attributed Tuesday by El Aissami to an “illegitimate protest” for the expropriation of 25,000 hectares (62,000 acres) in the area that was decreed by INTI in mid-December.
Rosales’ successor as governor of Zulia, Pablo Perez, and other authorities and national leaders of the UNT were ordered Tuesday by El Aissami to “step forward and take a stand, to dissociate themselves from this terrorist act and to support the investigation, in strict accord with the constitution and the laws.” EFE