Defiant Venezuela leader rejects prisoner amnesty

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro waves during the closing rally of the campaign on December 3, 2015 in Caracas

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro waves during the closing rally of the campaign on December 3, 2015 in Caracas (AFP Photo/Juan Barreto)

Caracas (AFP) - Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro vowed Wednesday to block an amnesty for political prisoners demanded by opposition leaders after they dealt him a blow by winning control of the legislature.

Having broken the 16-year grip of the country's socialist rulers on the National Assembly, the opposition MUD coalition says one of its first efforts will be to free scores of its leaders and activists jailed under Maduro's government.

The 53-year-old president admitted defeat after Sunday's legislative vote and called for "co-existence" with the opposition, but he hardened his tone again in his late-night weekly television broadcast.

"I will not accept any amnesty law, because those prisoners violated human rights," the mustachioed leader said.

"They can send me a thousand proposals for new laws but the killers of a people must be judged and must pay."

The most high-profile opposition prisoner is Leopoldo Lopez, leader of the center-right party Popular Will.

He was convicted of inciting violence during deadly anti-government protests last year and sentenced to nearly 14 years in jail.

A fugitive prosecutor in the case has since said that false evidence was used against Lopez, whose supporters say he is a political prisoner.

The United States, the European Union and the United Nations have all condemned Lopez's conviction, which his lawyers have appealed.

Lopez's wife Lilian Tintori has become a moral figurehead for the opposition, traveling abroad to rally support.

The newly elected deputy in charge of the amnesty bill, Delsa Solorzano, vowed the opposition would push ahead with it and had the constitutional means to pass the measure.

She said the government "has no way of blocking the amnesty law."

She said it was part of the opposition's "commitment to reconciling the country."

"What a pity Nicolas doesn't understand that," she said.

Solorzarno said the amnesty demand concerned about 80 prisoners.

Other prominent names among them include the ex-mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, who is under house arrest.

Sunday's election result was a dramatic blow for Maduro and the socialist "revolution" launched in 1999 by his late predecessor Hugo Chavez.

The national election commission confirmed that the MUD won 112 of the 167 seats in the National Assembly. The other 55 went to Maduro's PSUV socialist party.

The result set the stage for a struggle between the resurgent opposition and Maduro, who still holds broad presidential powers.

Maduro said he ordered his cabinet to resign "in order to carry out a process of restructuring, renovation and deep reform in the government."

Venezuela has the world's largest proven oil reserves, which Chavez and Maduro used to fund social welfare programs.

But plunging oil prices have crippled the country since Maduro was elected in 2013.