By Brian Ellsworth
CARACAS, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Venezuelan authorities have issued an arrest warrant for opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez on charges including murder and terrorism linked to street protests on Wednesday that ended in the deaths of three people.
Lopez, who denies wrongdoing and says he is simply exercising the right to free assembly, has for several weeks been the driving force behind demonstrations around the country seeking to topple President Nicolas Maduro.
The following are facts about him:
* A former mayor with Hollywood looks, Lopez has emerged in recent months as a hardline leader of those in the opposition who seek an immediate end to Maduro's government.
His strategy of high-profile rallies and demonstrations runs counter to the moderate wing of the opposition, which is more focused on improving shoddy public services and highlighting the problems with the Socialist Party's state-led economic model.
* Lopez briefly ran as one of five presidential hopefuls in the 2012 opposition primary that picked a unified leader to run against Hugo Chavez. He bowed out of the race to back state governor Henrique Capriles' ultimately unsuccessful bid.
* Lopez has maintained an off-and-on rivalry with Capriles, who galvanized the opposition and became its de facto leader after running a vigorous campaign against Chavez and nearly beating Maduro in the April vote to replace the deceased leader.
Capriles has refused to endorse Lopez's strategy of street protests.
* The government in 2008 quashed Lopez's bid for Caracas mayor by ruling he could not hold public office, even if he won the election, due to corruption charges for which he was accused but never tried. Critics say that halted a political career that could have ended in the presidency.
* An athletic 42-year-old who plays up his photogenic looks, Lopez speaks flawless English and studied in the United States on a swimming scholarship. The father-of-two lives in the wealthy Chacao district where he was once mayor.
* Lopez founded the Popular Will political party after disagreements with other opposition figures, and built a network of supporters in poor and middle-class areas. (Editing by Daniel Wallis)