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Venezuelan manhunt under way for opposition leader

By The Associated Press

This article was published February 16, 2014 at 9:09 a.m.

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan security forces simultaneously raided the homes of Leopoldo Lopez and his parents, looking to arrest the hard-line opposition leader who President Nicolas Maduro blames for three deaths at recent anti-government protests.

Lopez, who hasn't been seen since a Wednesday night news conference, wasn't at either of the residences in Caracas leafy eastern district when groups of national guardsmen and military intelligence officials arrived late at night. Aides said neighbors banged on pots and pans to protest what they consider an arbitrary detention order.

"Maduro, you're a coward," Lopez said in a message posted on Twitter after security forces left the premises early Sunday. "You're not going to force me or my family to bow down."

The midnight manhunt capped another night of protests during which security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a group of some 500 students who have vowed to remain on the streets until all anti-government demonstrators are released. Authorities said 23 people were being treated for injuries, none of them life-threatening.

Earlier Saturday, Maduro said that authorities were searching for the 42-year-old Lopez, who he accuses of leading a U.S.-backed, "fascist" plot to oust him from power just two months after his party's candidates won mayoral elections by a landslide.

Lopez "ordered all these violent kids, who he trained, to destroy the prosecutor's office and half of Caracas and then goes into hiding," Maduro told thousands of supporters at a rally Saturday. "Turn yourself in coward."

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