Page last updated at 21:04 GMT, Monday, 27 April 2009 22:04 UK

Peru asylum for Venezuela mayor

Manuel Rosales, file pic from December 2006
Manuel Rosales was elected mayor of Venezuela's second city last year

Peru has granted asylum to a Venezuelan opposition leader who says he is being politically persecuted by President Hugo Chavez's government.

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

He went into hiding when the charges were filed last month.

Peru's Foreign Minister, Jose Garcia Belaunde, said asylum had been granted to Mr Rosales on Monday.

Mr Garcia Belaunde said the decision was part of Peru's long standing commitment to international law.

It is understood that during the meeting, Mr Rosales laid out his reasons for seeking political asylum, and apologised for a television interview he gave from Lima in which he called Mr Chavez a dictator and a coward, says the BBC's Will Grant in Caracas.

Granting Mr Rosales asylum is unlikely to improve already-strained relations between Venezuela and Peru, our correspondent adds.

Fugitive from justice?

Venezuelan Interior Minister Tareck el-Aissami had said earlier that 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 politically motivated.

Mr Rosales, who was elected mayor of Venezuela's second biggest city, Maracaibo, last year 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 attended a court hearing last week 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".

Opposition activists in Venezuela say Mr 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 him 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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