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Venezuela’s Supreme Court has ordered that one of the leaders of the protests against President Nicolas Maduro be arrested and imprisoned.

The court, which many critics claim is an extension of the Maduro regime, has sentenced opposition mayor Ramon Muchacho to 15 months in jail for refusing an order to remove barricades set up by protesters in Caracas.

Mr Muchacho, who did not appear at the hearings and whose whereabouts are not known, responded on Twitter, saying “all the weight of revolutionary injustice has fallen on my shoulders”.

He later emailed supporters, saying: “We are being condemned for doing our job, for guaranteeing the legitimate right to peaceful protest and the right of all Venezuelans to exercise their civil and political rights.”

Anti-government activists and the National Guard clash in Venezuela's third city, Valencia

Image: Anti-government activists clash with the National Guard in Venezuela’s third city, Valencia

“The coming hours will be difficult for me,” he added.

Demonstrators have been blocking streets and setting up barricades along avenues in Mr Muchacho’s Chacao district of the capital, Caracas, for more than four months.

The court ruled Mr Muchacho was in contempt for not having them removed.

It is not the first time the Supreme Court has used similar reasoning to jail other mayors of areas rife with protest.

Protesters set a barricade on fire in Valencia, Venezuela's third-biggest city

Image: Protesters set a barricade on fire in Valencia

Critics say such decisions show that the top court has become an extension of the ruling Socialist Party.

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In a similar move, on Sunday, Venezuela’s chief prosecutor was sacked and ordered to stand trial.

A unanimous vote to remove Luisa Ortega, a staunch critic of President Maduro, was top of the agenda at the first meeting of the new constitutional assembly.

At least 120 people have died and hundreds more have been injured in the growing protests against Mr Maduro’s government.

Earlier, the United Nations human rights office announced it had found “widespread and systematic use of excessive force, arbitrary detention and other rights violations against demonstrators and detainees”.

Violations included “house raids, torture and ill-treatment of those detained over the protests.”

The team found security forces were allegedly responsible for at least 46 deaths and pro-government armed groups allegedly responsible for 27.

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