Jailed Venezuelan opposition leader ends hunger strike

CARACAS, Venezuela – Jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez announced Tuesday, June 23, he has ended a month-long hunger strike, a day after the government set a date for legislative elections.

"We lift the hunger strike, but the struggle continues," he said via a handwritten letter read by his wife Lilian Tintori.

Lopez called on dozens of protesters who had supported him with hunger strikes of their own to call off their fasts and "embrace with humility the gains obtained with this protest."

Lopez, who has been held at a military prison for 16 months, went on a hunger strike May 24 to demand the release of political prisoners and legislative elections monitored by international observers.

On Monday, the head of the national election council set a December 6 date for the vote amid mounting international pressure.

The government of President Nicolas Maduro has seen its popularity tumble amid a punishing economic crisis that has led to widespread shortages and soaring inflation.

The fragile opposition – one faction of which is led by Lopez – sees the elections as a prime opportunity to gain control over a National Assembly long controlled by the leftist followers of the late Hugo Chavez.

"The change now has a date," Lopez said in his letter, cautioning that there was still "a ways to go."

Tintori, who was accompanied by 14 of the hunger strikers and leaders of Lopez's Popular Will party, said the opposition has not given up on its demands.

These include the release of all political prisoners, an end to "persecution and censorship," and the presence of election observers from the EU and Organization of American States, she said. – Rappler.com