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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 August 2006, 22:20 GMT 23:20 UK
Jailed anti-Chavez leader escapes
Carlos Ortega. File photo
Carlos Ortega was charged as soon as the 63-day strike ended
A senior Venezuelan opposition leader has escaped from a military prison, the country's attorney general has said.

Carlos Ortega was sentenced to almost 16 years in jail last year after being convicted of inciting unrest during a strike that began in late 2002.

He escaped along with three military officers and may have been aided by some authorities, Venezuela's attorney general said.

Ortega is known as a fierce opponent of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez.

Lawyer doubts

In his role as a key union leader, Ortega, 59, played a central role in the 63-day strike that aimed to oust Mr Chavez from the presidency.

He was arrested last March after returning to Venezuela from Costa Rica, where he sought asylum after the strike ended.

Attorney General Isias Rodriguez told Venezuelan TV that Ortega had escaped from prison.

"Effectively at this moment the people who appear to have escaped are not in the Ramo Verde prison," he said.

He had been jailed at the military prison, some 40km (25 miles) outside Caracas, for his own security, officials said.

Ortega's lawyer, Carlos Roa, expressed "surprise" at the news and said he had doubts about the truth of the story, the EFE news agency reported.

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