Page last updated at 08:57 GMT, Wednesday, 22 April 2009 09:57 UK

Chavez rival seeks asylum in Peru

Manuel Rosales, file pic from December 2006
Manuel Rosales is the current mayor of Venezuela's second city

A Venezuelan opposition leader has sought asylum in Peru, saying he is being politically persecuted by President Hugo Chavez's government.

Manuel Rosales, who ran against Mr Chavez in the 2006 presidential election, faces corruption charges he says are baseless.

He had been in hiding since the charges were filed last month.

Venezuela's Interior Minister Tareck el-Aissami said Mr Rosales was a criminal on the run.

"If he doesn't appear before the appropriate courts, he would be a fugitive from justice, and as a result the court will activate mechanisms for his international capture," said Mr Aissami, denying that the charges were political.

Mr Rosales, who is mayor of Venezuela's second biggest city, Maracaibo, is facing multi-million-dollar corruption charges relating to his time as the governor of Zulia state.

Supporters of Mr Rosales march in Mracaibo on 20 April
Mr Rosales and his supporters say he is the victim of a political witch-hunt

He was to have appeared at a court hearing on Monday but failed to appear.

One of Mr Rosales's lawyers in Venezuela, Alvaro Castillo, told the Associated Press his client had left the country because "he wasn't going to have a fair or clean or impartial trial."

Javier Valle-Riestra, a prominent Peruvian legislator who is representing Mr Rosales, said they had submitted the asylum request on Tuesday and expected a decision within two months.

Peruvian Justice Minister Rosario Fernandez said his government would carefully consider the case.

Opposition activists in Venezuela say President Chavez's government is conducting a witch-hunt against their leaders in a bid to undermine their victories in last year's local elections.

The authorities deny that opposition figures are being politically persecuted and say any charges against them have been filed in accordance with the law.

Long history

Mr Rosales has long been a vocal critic of President Chavez. He ran and lost heavily against Mr Chavez in the 2006 presidential election.

During campaigning for last year's local elections, Mr Chavez threatened Mr Rosales with prison, accusing him of corruption and plotting to assassinate him.

"I will confront everything I must...They are aiming to politically lynch all of us who are opposed to the coronation of Chavez," Mr Rosales said at the time.

Government supporters accuse him of taking part in the short-lived coup against Mr Chavez in April 2002.

Mr Rosales has insisted that it was an honest mistake in the confusion that followed the announcement of the president's resignation.

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