Chavez critic arrested after outburst

An outspoken opponent of President Hugo Chavez said police took him into custody while he awaits trial on conspiracy charges for saying Venezuela has become a haven for drug trafficking.

Former Zulia state Governor Oswaldo Alvarez Paz, who has also been accused of spreading false information and publicly inciting violation of the law, said federal agents planned to escort him to intelligence headquarters in Caracas.

"I am assuming responsibility for the things I have said," Mr Alvarez Paz told the Globovision television channel.

The station broadcast footage of government agents accompanying Mr Alvarez Paz from his residence in the capital of Caracas to an awaiting car, which then drove off.

His attorney, Omar Estacio, said the charges are unfounded and expressed doubt that prosecutors would have any success in court.

"He is a political prisoner, there is no doubt about that," Mr Estacio said.

Representatives from the Attorney General's Office did not immediately answer phone calls seeking comment on the arrest.

The charges against Mr Alvarez Paz stem from comments he made during a talk show broadcast by Globovision, the only TV channel in Venezuela that remains critical of Mr Chavez.

"Venezuela has turned into a centre of operations that facilitates the business of drug trafficking," Mr Alvarez Paz said last month on Hello Citizen.

Mr Alvarez Paz has said he stands by the remarks and insists he has broken no laws.

Opponents accuse Mr Chavez of growing increasingly intolerant of criticism and using the judicial system to harass and imprison opponents.

Mr Chavez denies holding sway over prosecutors and says only people who break the law are being prosecuted and jailed.

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