Venezuela opposition leader Maria Corina Machado answers charges

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Venezuelan opposition leader Machado vows to continue protests despite conspiracy charges against her

Venezuelan opposition leader Maria Corina Machado on Thursday vowed to continue her political protests after officials ordered her to face charges of conspiracy to murder the nation's president, an accusation she denied.

Machado, 47, a former member of the National Assembly, spoke at a news conference to react to an order issued by the attorney general's office Wednesday night that she appear before prosecutors Dec. 3 to answer charges that she is linked to a plot to kill President Nicolas Maduro.

"There are no crimes to accuse me of. Despite [the government's efforts] to run me over, we will continue the struggle," Machado told reporters. "They are charging me for saying there is a dictatorship in Venezuela."

The prosecutor's statement did not disclose any evidence against Machado. In prior comments broadcast on state television, Maduro said proof of such a plot was evident in emails to and from the former lawmaker, which were intercepted by the government.

Six other prominent opposition figures, all apparently outside Venezuela at this time, were named as being involved in the suspected plot, including former Gov. Henrique Salas Romer, former United Nations ambassador and presidential candidate Diego Arria and Robert Alonso Bustillo, the brother of actress Maria Conchita Alonso.

Also named as suspects were Ricardo Emilio Koesling Nava, Gustavo Tarre Briceño and Pedro Mario Burelli, son of a former foreign minister. Arrest warrants were issued for all the suspected plot members except Machado.

Machado was expelled from the National Assembly in March after she backed several weeks of nationwide protests against Maduro, who was elected in 2013 to replace the late Hugo Chavez.

Justifying Machado's expulsion, Assembly President Diosdado Cabello accused her of inciting violence in which 41 protesters and police officers died. He also accused her of treason, murder and criminal conspiracy. Machado said she backed only peaceful protests.

The demonstrations were initiated by university students in the western state of Tachira to protest the high rate of crime on campuses and the country's struggling economy. Venezuela is suffering from scarcities of food staples, inflation that could top an annual rate of 60% this year, and one of the world's highest rates of violent crime.

In May 2013, Machado and other opposition members were physically attacked on the floor of the Assembly by pro-Chavez lawmakers. None of the attackers was censured by Cabello. Machado was also harassed by authorities at the Puerto Ordaz airport this year after speaking at an opposition rally.

Machado was elected to represent Miranda state by the highest percentage of any candidate in the 2010 congressional elections.

Her fellow opposition leader, former Caracas borough Mayor Leopoldo Lopez, has been jailed since February on charges of incitement to violence in connection with the protests. Both he and Machado have denied they urged demonstrators to resort to violence.

Various human rights groups, including a United Nations panel, have called on the Maduro government to release Lopez from prison.

Special correspondents Mogollon reported from Caracas and Kraul from Bogota, Colombia.

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