Peru recalled its ambassador from Venezuela to protest what it said was Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's "persistent and flagrant" interference in Peru's presidential election.
The diplomatic spat came on Saturday over the Venezuelan leader calling candidate Alan Garcia a "thief" and his repeated endorsements of nationalist front-runner Ollanta Humala. The two candidates will likely face off in a runoff election later this month or early next month.
"The government of Peru has decided to immediately remove its ambassador from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela for the persistent and flagrant interference in internal affairs of Peru, in clear violation of the principles and norms of international law," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The statement said that besides Chavez's "repeated declarations" about Peru's electoral process, the decision to recall the ambassador also was in response to comments Chavez made on Saturday aimed at Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo.
The escalating war of words began when Garcia earlier this week referred to Chavez and his close ally, Bolivian President Evo Morales, as spoiled children and "historical losers" after they criticized Peru's signing of a free-trade pact with the US.
Chavez responded by calling Garcia, whose 1985 to 1990 administration was marked by hyperinflation, food shortages and guerrilla violence, a "thief" and a "crook." Chavez threatened to withdraw Venezuela's ambassador if the former leader is elected in an upcoming presidential runoff against Humala.
"I hope that Ollanta Humala becomes president of Peru," Chavez also said. "To Ollanta Humala, go comrade! Long live Ollanta Humala! Long live Peru!"
On Friday, Toledo told reporters: "I will not permit President Chavez to once again interject himself [in Peru's affairs] ... much less with blackmail and threats."
During a meeting with Morales and Cuban President Fidel Castro on Saturday, Chavez said the complaints by Toledo's government showed that Garcia and the Peruvian leader are "crocodiles from the same water hole."
The two countries have sparred previously over comments by Chavez that the Peruvian government characterized as interference.
In January, Peru recalled its ambassador from Venezuela for more than a week after Chavez said Humala was the voice of Peru's downtrodden and called Peru's presidential hopeful Lourdes Flores "the candidate of Peru's oligarchy."