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U.S. 'deeply disturbed' over Venezuela's jailing of opposition leader

By Andrew V. Pestano
Venezuela's former mayor of San Cristobal, Daniel Ceballos, seen here signing a referendum petition seeking to establish a recall against President Nicolas Maduro, was jailed on Saturday by Venezuelan authorities. Ceballos was under house arrest after previously being released due to medical concerns. Photo courtesy Daniel Ceballos
Venezuela's former mayor of San Cristobal, Daniel Ceballos, seen here signing a referendum petition seeking to establish a recall against President Nicolas Maduro, was jailed on Saturday by Venezuelan authorities. Ceballos was under house arrest after previously being released due to medical concerns. Photo courtesy Daniel Ceballos

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of State said it is "deeply disturbed' by the decision of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's administration to jail opposition leader Daniel Ceballos, the former mayor of San Cristobal.

Ceballos is one of several opposition leaders, including Leopoldo Lopez, arrested in early 2014 and accused of corruption and of inciting violent anti-government protests in which 43 people died -- both government supporters and opponents.

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Ceballos was later released from jail to serve in house arrest due to kidney problems but he was rearrested and sent to prison on Saturday ahead of a planned nationwide opposition rally scheduled for Thursday. Authorities initially told Ceballos and his wife he was being taken for a medical exam.

The jailing of Ceballos has been criticized by the United States and human rights groups. Venezuela's Interior Ministry said he was jailed because authorities believed he was going to flee the country.

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"The United States is deeply disturbed by the Venezuelan government's decision to move opposition leader Daniel Ceballos from house arrest to prison," U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. "Mr. Ceballos' transfer to prison represents an effort to intimidate and impede the Venezuelan people's right to peacefully express their opinion September 1. We condemn it and call for Mr. Ceballos' immediate release."

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Kirby said rule of law in Venezuela has been "degraded to an alarming degree."

"There is no place in a democratic society for employing the instruments of the state to bully, intimidate, and silence the political opposition," Kirby added.

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Amnesty International said the move was an attempt to silence the opposition.

"Authorities in Venezuela seem to be willing to stop at nothing in their quest to prevent anyone from criticizing them, particularly as the political and humanitarian situation in the country continues to deteriorate," Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International's Americas director, said in a statement.

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