Police officers inspect the national electoral headquarters after a fire, in Maracaibo
Stringer/venezuela  /  REUTERS
Police officers inspect the national electoral headquarters after a fire, which was set by anti-government protesters according to government officials, in Maracaibo March 25, 2014. REUTERS/Isaac Urrutia
updated 3/26/2014 11:11:41 AM ET 2014-03-26T15:11:41

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's top court has sentenced the mayor of the city of San Cristobal to a year in jail for failing to break up anti-government protests, extending a crackdown of opposition leaders associated with nearly two months of demonstrations.

The Supreme Court ruling issued late on Tuesday determined that Daniel Ceballos disobeyed an earlier court order that his administration remove barricades set up by protesters demanding the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro.

Demonstrators since early February have routinely used debris and burning trash to block the streets of San Cristobal, a city in the western Andes region near Colombia.

The protests began there early in the year with sporadic student demonstrations and it remains the city most affected by the unrest.

Ceballos, who has condemned violence but openly supported the protests, was also stripped of his post.

Opposition leaders say the recent actions are evidence that the country is sliding into a dictatorship that muzzles dissent and arbitrarily jails elected officials.

Maduro's supporters say the measures are meant to restore public order in the face of demonstrations that have left dozens dead and limited free transit as part of efforts to destabilize the government.

The Supreme Court has also sentenced the opposition mayor of the city of San Diego to 10 months in jail, stripping him of his post. Authorities in February arrested opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who helped turn the protests into a nationwide movement.

Congress this week stripped opposition deputy Maria Corina Machado of her post in parliament on charges she had violated the constitution by speaking at the Organization of American States with the backing of the Panamanian government.

(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2014. Check for restrictions at: http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp

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