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“If I have to decree a state of exception for Tachira and send in the tanks, I am ready to do it,” he warned.

The opposition is planning marches across the country Saturday to protest Lopez’s jailing, which has made him a cause celebre among opponents of Maduro. It’s helping him to eclipse to some degree Henrique Capriles, the opposition’s two-time losing presidential candidate who was building support for another challenge in two years.

Capriles attended a rally on Feb. 12 in Caracas led by Lopez but did not appear on the stage to address the masses of demonstrators. Clashes with police erupted afterward, after the opposition leaders and most of the protesters had left, and resulted in three deaths. In Twitter messages Wednesday, Capriles accused the government of infiltrating opposition demonstrations to provoke violence.

On Tuesday in Valencia, the third largest city, National Guard troops shot rubber bullets and unknown gunman on motorcycles fired live rounds at protesters. Genesis Carmona, a 22-year-old university student who had been Miss Tourism 2013 for the state of Carabobo, was struck in the head and killed by a bullet, a death that reverberated in a country that prizes beauty queens.

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Associated Press writers Fabiola Sanchez and Andrew Rosati contributed to this report.