Anti-Chavez Leader Requests Asylum In Peru
CBS News Interactive: About VenezuelaLIMA, Peru (AP) ― Venezuela opposition presidential candidate Manuel Rosales
A Venezuelan opposition leader who says he is a victim of political persecution by President Hugo Chavez's government has requested political asylum in Peru, one of his lawyers said Tuesday.
Manuel Rosales, a leading Chavez opponent, has been charged with corruption in Venezuela but says his trial there would not be fair.
Lawyer Javier Valle-Riestra told The Associated Press the asylum request for Rosales was made in Peru on Tuesday.
He said a group of Rosales' allies contacted him 10 days ago about the case. Rosales' political party is in contact with several "friendly countries" about possible asylum requests on his behalf, party leader Delsa Solorzano said.
Peruvian Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde said earlier Tuesday that Rosales entered Peru as a tourist and had not yet requested asylum.
If Rosales does request asylum in Peru, the government will evaluate his case, Garcia Belaunde told Colombia's Caracol radio.
Rosales, who lost a presidential race to Chavez in 2006, stepped down as mayor of Maracaibo, Venezuela's second-largest city, in March and went into hiding in response to harassment and fears he could be in danger, his party said.
Prosecutors accuse Rosales of illegal enrichment between 2000 and 2004 while he was governor of Venezuela's western Zulia state. They are seeking his arrest, but a court has yet to approve the charge against him or decide if he should be detained while awaiting trial.
Rosales denies the accusation, calling it a "political lynching" ordered by Chavez.
Venezuelan Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami emphasized on Tuesday that Rosales is charged with corruption-related crimes, not "crimes of a political nature."
"If he doesn't appear before the appropriate courts, he would be a fugitive of justice, and as a result the court will activate mechanisms for his international capture," El Aissami told Venezuelan state television.
Solorzano, an ally and party leader, noted that no court has ordered Rosales' arrest and that he was still free to travel. She said it took some convincing by party leaders for him to agree to go.
"It was the best option due to the serious political persecution," she told The Associated Press.
Prosecutors say Rosales failed to show the legal source of about $68,000 in income several years ago while he was Zulia state governor. Rosales says he reported the earnings in his income taxes and that it came from his involvement in the agriculture business. He owns a cattle ranch in western Zulia state.
An attorney for Rosales in Venezuela on Tuesday defended his client's decision to leave the country.
"He wasn't going to have a fair or clean or impartial trial," Alvaro Castillo said.
Venezuelans do not need a visa to enter Peru, and can stay as tourists for up to six months.
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