CARACAS - Venezuelan prosecutors charged a prominent opposition leader with conspiracy Wednesday in relation to an alleged plot to assassinate leftist President Nicolas Maduro.
Maria Corina Machado, a vocal supporter of anti-government protests that rocked the country earlier this year, vehemently rejected the charge as she left the attorney general's office after questioning.
"Today they have charged me with the crime of conspiracy," she said.
"All the accusations and supposed evidence are false, and I reject them."
Under Venezuelan law she faces eight to 16 years in prison if convicted.
The attorney general's office said in a statement she had been charged with "conspiracy" for "allegedly having links to the assassination plan against the president."
Maduro, who succeeded the late Hugo Chavez last year and has come under mounting political pressure as the country's oil-based economy sours, has made frequent claims of plots against him.
Machado, 47, who says the evidence against her amounts to slander, was ousted from her seat in the National Assembly in March.
Along with Leopoldo Lopez, an opposition leader jailed since February on charges of inciting violent protests, she has been one of the most visible figures in an anti-government protest movement called "La Salida," or "The Way Out."
The movement seeks to use street protests to press for Maduro's resignation.
In May, ruling party leaders made public emails that they claimed showed Machado was plotting against Maduro with others, including the US ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker.
The opposition and human rights groups have accused the government of using the judicial system to persecute dissidents.
Washington voiced concern.
"We are deeply concerned by what appears to be the Venezuelan government's continuing effort to intimidate its political opponents through abuse of the legal process," said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.
"The charges against Machado raise concerns once again about Venezuela's arbitrary use of prosecutorial power to silence and punish government critics," Harf said, adding "we continue to call on the Venezuelan government to respect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and release political prisoners, including dozens of students, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and mayors Daniel Ceballos and Enzo Scarano."
Machado arrived at the attorney general's office accompanied by the leader of the main opposition coalition, Jesus Torrealba, Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma and about 100 supporters.
Other opposition leaders rushed to her defence, including Henrique Capriles, the candidate who narrowly lost to Maduro in presidential elections last year.
Capriles dismissed the case against Machado as "a little circus put together by Nicolas (Maduro)." "They're always looking for something to hide the truth and run away from the country's problems," he said.