Venezuela opposition leader 'in Peru'

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The Independent US

A Venezuelan opposition leader who says he is a victim of political persecution by the government of President Hugo Chavez has arrived in Peru but has not requested political asylum, Peru's foreign minister said today.

Manuel Rosales, a leading opponent of Chavez, faces a corruption charge at home. And a political ally, Omar Barboza, said Monday that Rosales has decided to seek asylum abroad rather than face a corruption charge in a trial he says would be stacked against him.

Peruvian Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde said Rosales entered Peru as a tourist.

"I don't know on what date he entered," Garcia Belaunde told the network CNN en Espanol. "He hasn't asked for asylum."

The foreign minister told Colombia's Caracol radio that Rosales, if he intends to seek asylum in Peru, would have to request it and the government would "evaluate if there are reasons to grant asylum."

Rosales went into hiding at the end of March, with his party citing harassment and fears he could be in danger, and he temporarily stepped down as mayor of Maracaibo, Venezuela's second-largest city.

Rosales has been accused by Venezuelan prosecutors of illegal enrichment between 2000 and 2004 while he was governor of western Zulia state. Prosecutors are seeking his arrest, but a court has yet to approve the charge or decide if he should be detained while awaiting trial.

He has denied the accusation against him, calling it a "political lynching" ordered by Chavez. He says the Venezuelan judicial system is doing Chavez's bidding and a trial would not be fair.