CARACAS — The Venezuelan government arrested the country’s most prominent opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, after he addressed a large antigovernment demonstration Tuesday, a move that could potentially inflame the tumultuous political situation here.
The arrest added momentum to the most intense political crisis facing President Nicolas Maduro since he took over in April after the death of his mentor, Hugo Chavez. The socialist country’s rising inflation and failing economy have led to greater opposition and demonstrations that have turned violent in recent days.
Speaking to a crowd in Caracas next to a statue of Cuban leader Jose Marti, Lopez said that his fight was for the country’s youths, its students, ‘‘for the repressed, for the imprisoned, for all the Venezuelan people that today are suffering’’ from shortages of food and basic goods.
Afterward, the 42-year-old former mayor of a Caracas municipality gave himself up to authorities. Lopez has been charged with ‘‘terrorism’’ and described by Maduro as a ‘‘fascist’’ in cahoots with the United States.
Earlier this week, Maduro expelled three US diplomats from the country, accusing them of conspiring against his government.
The State Department called the allegations ‘‘baseless and false.’’
‘‘We have seen many times that the Venezuelan government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela,’’ a State Department spokeswoman said in a statement Tuesday. ‘‘These efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan government to deal with the grave situation it faces.’’
Lopez has emerged as the leading critic of Maduro’s government. Last week, violent clashes in the street left three people dead and dozens injured. In a video before Tuesday’s march, Lopez said he had ‘‘nothing to fear’’ and offered himself up for arrest.