Venezuela's Maduro vows to veto amnesty bill passed by National Assembly

CARACAS, Venezuela, March 30 (UPI) -- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro vowed to veto an amnesty bill passed by the National Assembly that could see opposition leaders freed from jail.

The law was passed after heated debate late Tuesday in Venezuela's opposition-controlled unicameral National Assembly. At least 70 people could be potentially freed from prison, whom the opposition considers political prisoners but the ruling government of Maduro largely considers "criminals and terrorists."

The Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, political opposition coalition won a qualified majority, or supermajority, in historic parliamentary elections in December that dealt the first major loss to the socialist movement in Venezuela established by late former President Hugo Chávez.

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who was sentenced in September to nearly 14 years imprisonment, could potentially be released. He was found guilty on four charges: conspiracy, public incitement, determinative in arson and in damages.

Leopoldo López in his prison cell. López has been held since February 2014 on what human rights groups say are politically motivated charges. Photo courtesy

Lopez, leader of the Voluntad Popular -- or Popular Will -- opposition party and former mayor of Chacao, a municipality within Caracas, was arrested in February 2014 after handing himself over to authorities.

He organized protests earlier in 2014 calling for better security, an end to food shortages and enhanced freedom of speech for citizens, but the protests turned deadly -- about 43 people died, both government supporters and opponents.

Maduro's government blamed Lopez partly for fueling tensions that led to the deadly demonstrations. That accusation led to a trial and conviction that has been considered a sham by the opposition and numerous human rights organizations.

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