Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was convicted inciting violence and sentenced to 13 years in prison on Thursday for his leading role in the 2014 street protests against the government of President Nicolas Maduro that spiralled into bloodshed, killing more than 40 people. A statement from Unasur (Union of South American Nations) is expected on Friday.
One man was killed and several people were injured outside the Caracas courthouse on Thursday when supporters of Lopez clashed with government loyalists as they awaited the 44-year-old opposition politician's verdict.
Lopez still serves as the leader of the party Voluntad Popular, or Popular Will, which he founded in 2009 in a reaction to increasing restrictions on individual freedoms in Venezuela. He was arrested in February on the charges varying from terrorism and murder to arson.
Popular Will proponents say government forces were to blame for the violent turns in the demonstrations that left dozens dead. Lopez has maintained that he only ever called for peaceful protests.
His supporters arrived early in the morning to wave banners and pray, while red-shirted pro-government demonstrators arrived and began chanting that Lopez was a murderer. The government supporters also threw bottles at Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, as she made her way through the police barricade to the courthouse.
Police in riot gear tried to separate the two sides, but were unable to prevent the small outbreaks of violence that injured at least two women and claimed the life of 66-year-old Popular Will member Horacio Blanco. As the trial began, Lopez's defenders hailed Blanco as a martyr. His cause of death was not immediately clear.
Lopez's arrest and imprisonment has been condemned by Amnesty International and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. His popularity has soared during his time in jail, outstripping that of President Maduro.
From Washington U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Jacobson said on Thursday she was deeply troubled by the sentencing of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez to 13 years' prison.
Jacobson, via Twitter, urged the defence of democracy and human rights in Venezuela. Washington had been urging President Nicolas Maduro's government to release Lopez, in jail since February 2014 on charges of inciting violence.