A Venezuelan court has ordered the arrest of a key opponent of President Hugo Chavez who fled to Peru and is seeking political asylum there, prosecutors in Caracas said.
In Peru’s capital Lima, Venezuelan opposition leader Manuel Rosales made his first public appearance in more than three weeks, calling the charges against him trumped-up and heaping ridicule on Mr Chavez, his political rival in 2006 presidential elections.
“A democrat doesn’t turn himself in to a dictator,” Mr Rosales said. He called Mr Chavez a “coward” and vowed to “keep confronting this abusive totalitarian regime, which violates human rights”.
Peruvian Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde said after Mr Rosales’ televised speech that he should abstain from making political declarations because “that would violate the very nature of the asylum.
“Peru can’t be used as a political platform for any foreigner,” Mr Garcia Belaunde told reporters, saying Peru could rule on the asylum request in about two weeks.
Venezuelan prosecutors said in a statement that a court ordered Mr Rosales’ arrest because he “has shown he isn’t willing to present himself” in court, and it sent requests to Venezuelan police and Interpol asking them to detain him.
Mr Rosales, who recently stepped down as mayor of Venezuela’s second-largest city, Maracaibo, and went into hiding, repeated accusations that he is a victim of political persecution by Mr Chavez’s government.
He said the Venezuelan government is using the legal system to go after him and other opponents, and asked: “Why don’t they go after the real corrupt people?”
Prosecutors in Venezuela, meanwhile, also summoned former Caracas Mayor Juan Barreto – a Chavez ally during a term that ended last year – for arraignment on corruption charges next week, the attorney general’s office announced in a statement.
Mr Barreto is under investigation for alleged misuse of public funds, it said. Mr Barreto denied any wrongdoing.
Mr Rosales has said he would not receive a fair trial in Venezuela, where he is charged with illegal enrichment. “I’m a victim of a broadside of false accusations,” he said.
Prosecutors said Mr Rosales failed to justify how he earned about 147,000 bolivars – or about €52,000 at current exchange rates – between 2002 and 2004 while he was governor of western Zulia state.
Mr Rosales said those earnings came from his involvement in the agriculture business, but “they haven’t wanted to accept the evidence we’ve presented”.