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INTERVIEW-Battered Venezuelan opposition will reorganize -wife of jailed leader

Source: Reuters - Thu, 7 Aug 2014 18:41 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Julia Symmes Cobb

CARACAS, Aug 7 (Reuters) - Venezuela's beleaguered opposition coalition, rocked by in-fighting and a high-profile resignation, will come back stronger after reorganization, the wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez said in an interview.

The turmoil is a chance for new leadership to take over the coalition and finally push out President Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded firebrand leader Hugo Chavez after his death last year, said Lopez's wife Lilian Tintori.

"The MUD is restructuring, it's an opportunity, giving way to new, more organized, leadership," Tintori said in an interview outside the Caracas court where her husband's trial, which is closed to the press and the public, is being held.

"Leadership which is more focused on definitively giving an answer to Venezuelans who want a change," Tintori said.

The Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition has long been battered by discord between hard-liners and moderates, which intensified after tens of thousands took to the streets earlier this year to protest the country's socialist government.

Last week MUD head Ramon Aveledo, who guided the coalition through two presidential campaigns and often managed to unite disparate factions, resigned, leaving no clear successor.

Tintori says the MUD will keep fighting for a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution while meeting with citizens in an effort to expand their base of supporters.

"The opposition is strengthening," said Tintori, who would not say who could potentially lead the reorganized coalition.

"We need a more active opposition," she said, ringed by about a dozen supporters, "more reactive to the abuses of power that we're living in this dictatorship."

Lopez, the leader of a radical opposition faction, is accused of masterminding anti-government demonstrations that killed 43 people.

His supporters say the economist, 43, is a scapegoat for impromptu protests sparked by anger at the government's failed economic policies, soaring inflation and product shortages.

The demonstrations, the worst violence in the oil-rich country for a decade, fizzled out this spring as the opposition failed to attract support from poorer Venezuelans, many of whom remain loyal to the wildly-popular Chavez.

Tintori contends it was the government's "brutal repression" which curbed the protests.

Lopez heads a wing of the opposition which believes authoritarian rule makes democratic change of government impossible and advocates street action against authorities.

"The government hasn't presented one bit of evidence that Leopoldo is guilty," Tintori said. "He's in jail because Maduro is scared of him."

Hard-line government critics have blasted MUD leadership for not taking a stronger stance during the protests and for sitting down for dialogue with Maduro, though both Aveledo and ex-presidential candidate Henrique Capriles railed against a security force crackdown on demonstrators.

Capriles, perhaps the most well-known opposition figure, has lately been out of the spotlight - focusing on his duties in the state of Miranda, where he is governor.

"There is no reason to wait," Tintori said of efforts to take on the government. "Venezuela is going to keep bleeding - we won't allow that." (Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; editing by Andrew Hay)

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