Thu, Apr 23, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Venezuelan opposition leader flees

AFP , LIMA

Venezuelan opposition leader Manuel Rosales sought asylum in Peru on Tuesday, claiming he was being persecuted by the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on baseless corruption charges.

Rosales, who ran against Chavez for president in 2006, is former governor of the oil-rich state of Zulia and current mayor of the western Venezuelan city of Maracaibo.

Rosales’ attorney, Peruvian legislator Javier Valle Riestra, said the asylum request was presented to local authorities at midday.

“Now all that is left is to wait for the answer from the Peruvian government, which has two months to decide,” Valle Riesta said.

Valle Riestra — himself a prominent legislator with the ruling APRA party and briefly prime minister in the 1990s — said that granting Rosales asylum should not be considered a move by Peru against Chavez.

“If he is granted asylum ... that does not mean that Chavez is being considered as a gorilla, a thug or a despot,” Valle Riestra said.

Rosales has been hiding from Venezuelan authorities for the past month after the corruption charges were filed.

An outspoken Chavez critic, Rosales ran afoul of the leftist president after he was linked to a 2002 attempted coup against the Venezuelan leader.

Chavez accused Rosales on the campaign trail for regional elections in October of plotting to assassinate him and threatened to have him jailed.

Chavez, who first took office in 1999 and survived the 47-hour coup in 2002, routinely accuses the opposition — and the US government — of trying to overthrow him and even have him killed.

In Venezuela, Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami said on Tuesday that authorities were seeking Rosales’ arrest on charges of illicit enrichment linked to the period he was Zulia governor between 2002 and 2004.

“If he does not present himself to the relevant authorities,” El Aissami told reporters, Rosales “will be considered a fugitive of justice and the mechanisms for his international capture will be activated.”

El Aissami insists that Rosales is not being politically persecuted.

“He is wanted by Venezuelan justice for crimes of corruption” unrelated to politics, he said.

Rosales faces between three and 10 years in prison if found guilty of corruption.

The Maracaibo mayor was supposed to appear in a Caracas court on Monday to determine if he would be jailed pending trial. A new hearing on preventive detention was set for May 11, a member of Rosales’ defense team said.

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