Jailed Venezuela opponent says Maduro's exit should be priority

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delivers a speech during a military parade in Caracas on December 12, 2015 (AFP Photo/Juan Barreto)

Caracas (AFP) - Ousting President Nicolas Maduro should be a priority of Venezuela's new legislature that meets in January, jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez said in an interview out Sunday.

Lopez told the daily El Nacional that Maduro must be removed before his term formally ends in 2019.

Opposition candidates won a resounding two-thirds majority in the December 6 elections for the National Assembly, ending 16 years of leftist pro-government majority.

"The first step we must take is to consolidate the opposition leadership's committment that Maduro must leave before 2019," Lopez said, answering written questions sent by the newspaper.

Next is to determine how to do this legally, and there are "several constitutional mechanisms that can be applied according to the circumstances," he said.

Lopez is being held at the Ramo Verde military prison on the outskirts of Caracas after being sentenced to nearly 14 years for inciting violence at anti-government protests that left 43 people dead.

One of the opposition's first moves when the new National Assembly opens on January 5 will likely be to pass an amnesty law for what it says are some 80 political prisoners who have been unjustly jailed.

Maduro has vowed to veto any such bill, but there are enough opposition votes in the National Assembly to override the veto.

The most prominent jailed opposition figure is Lopez, 44, the Harvard-educated leader of the Popular Will party.

Maduro, 53, is the hand-picked successor of the late leftist icon Hugo Chavez. Maduro was narrowly elected to a six-year term in April 2013.