Page last updated at 07:59 GMT, Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Key Chavez opponent faces charges

Manuel Rosales (8 November 2008)
Manuel Rosales has strenuously denied all the allegations

Prosecutors in Venezuela have summoned one of the country's main opposition leaders to appear before a judge on 11 December to face corruption charges.

Manuel Rosales, the outgoing governor of the oil-rich state of Zulia, is accused of defrauding the state lottery and misusing public funds.

He has denied the accusations, saying they amount to a political lynching of President Hugo Chavez's opponents.

Mr Rosales ran against Mr Chavez in the last presidential election in 2006.

The Attorney General's office said Mr Rosales had been summoned to appear before the judge investigating the case on the morning of 11 December.

The announcement came just days after President Chavez said he would seek the constitutional changes necessary to allow him to stand for indefinite re-election.

On Tuesday he announced that he expected a referendum would be held in February.

Government campaign

During the recent regional election campaign, Mr Chavez repeatedly threatened Mr Rosales with prison, taunting him at rallies by saying that a prison cell was waiting for him.

Hugo Chavez (30 November 2008)
Mr Chavez threatened Mr Rosales with prison during the regional elections
Mr Rosales, previously the governor of Zulia, was elected mayor of the country's second city, Maracaibo, in last month's municipal elections.

Adverts featuring alleged telephone conversations made by Mr Rosales, in which he was accused of receiving illegal gifts for his business partners and wife, were also put out by the government.

Just over a week after the poll, the state prosecutor's office announced it would charge him with defrauding the state lottery and misusing state funds.

Separately, the government has also accused Mr Rosales of plotting to kill the president and overthrow his administration - allegations strenuously denied by the opposition.

"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.

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