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Venezuela opposition leader Machado picks Corina Yoris as successor for presidential run

Opposition leader Maria Corina Machado addresses the media, in Caracas

By Vivian Sequera

CARACAS (Reuters) -Venezuela opposition leader Maria Corina Machado on Friday named Corina Yoris as her successor to take on President Nicolas Maduro in the country's presidential election in July, following the arrest of two of Machado's close aides.

With Venezuela's opposition under pressure to pick a candidate to register their candidacy with the National Electoral Council before the March 25 deadline, the decision to pick historian Yoris, 80, all but marks the end of Machado's presidential aspirations.

Engineer Machado, 56, saw her ban on holding public office upheld by the country's top court in January - even after winning a landslide 93% of votes in the opposition primary last October - which sources said caused other members of the opposition to pressure her to pick a replacement.

"We have found a person who has my complete confidence ... who will see this process through with everyone's support and trust," Machado said, adding that her fight against disqualification was not over.

Yoris' appointment as opposition candidate follows the announcement by Venezuela's attorney general earlier this week of the arrest of close Machado allies Henry Alviarez and Dignora Hernandez, as well as the issue of warrants for the capture of seven others, including Machado's rumored replacement, Magalli Meda.

The arrests of Machado's allies and the issue of warrants against other members of her campaign prompted international outcry.

"The decision by Maduro and his representatives to detain two members of the leading opposition candidate's campaign and issue warrants for seven others represents a disturbing escalation of repression," U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement on Friday.

If she wins the election in July, Yoris said her first act as president will be to release Venezuela's political prisoners, who number at least 250 and include civilians and members of the military.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Daniel Wallis)