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Venezuela calls for mayor arrest

By Will Grant
BBC News, Maracaibo

Manuel Rosales casts his vote in elections in Maracaibo, Venezuela (13 December 2006)
Mr Rosales said the order was designed to crush dissident voices

The Venezuelan government has called for the arrest of a key opposition leader on charges of corruption.

Manuel Rosales, who is mayor of the country's second city, Maracaibo, has said the charges against him are politically motivated.

The move comes just days after President Hugo Chavez sent troops to two major ports, including Maracaibo, in states run by the opposition.

Mr Rosales ran against Mr Chavez in the last presidential election in 2005.

In the latest in a series of clashes between the national government of Mr Chavez and leaders of the opposition, the public prosecutor is seeking the arrest of one of the president's most vocal opponents.

The state prosecutor, Katiuska Plaza, said the judiciary had a deadline of 20 days in which to come to a decision on whether to issue an arrest warrant for Mr Rosales on corruption charges.

The allegations of illegal enrichment date to his time as governor of the oil-rich state of Zulia and are charges he strenuously denies.

"This is an order that President Chavez has insisted on," said Mr Rosales, adding that the accusations were intended to "crush" what he called "dissident voices in the country".

The government says the local leaders have failed to administer the ports properly and that a recent change to the law allows Mr Chavez to step in if he deems it necessary.

The opposition say the move is a further effort by the socialist leader to undermine their victories in last year's local elections and consolidate his hold on power.

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