- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

CARACAS, VENEZUELA (AP) - A leading opponent of President Hugo Chavez has taken refuge somewhere in the city of Maracaibo because he faces harassment and could be in danger, the leader of his party said Tuesday.

Prosecutors are seeking to try Maracaibo Mayor Manuel Rosales on a corruption charge. Rosales calls it an attempt by Chavez to eliminate him from politics.

“He’s not going to turn himself in without the possibility of a fair trail,” said Omar Barboza, who heads the opposition party. He said Rosales is willing to face justice but has been followed, harassed and threatened, and the party wants “to protect Rosales’ life.”

“He’s in a Maracaibo, in a safe place. But of course he’s not going to turn himself in to that pack that’s chasing him, unless there’s the possibility of a fair trail,” Barboza told reporters.

Prosecutors want to try Rosales _ who ran unsuccessfully against Chavez in the 2006 presidential election _ on a charge of illegal enrichment and are calling for his arrest. A court has yet to rule on whether he should be detained while awaiting trial.

Information Minister Jesse Chacon said Rosales should defend himself in court.

“They want to make him the victim, saying that he’s the last hope” for the opposition, Chacon said. “This has nothing to do with the political issue.”

The charge against Rosales dates to a period between 2000 and 2004 when he was Zulia state governor. Rosales has vowed to fight the charge, calling it a “political lynching.”

His wife, Evelyn Trejo, appeared on television with some of their children outside the family’s house in Maracaibo and said the opposition leader is continuing his work as mayor. Trejo said her husband “fears for the security of his family.”

Trejo said some of their children, while driving to their university, have been repeatedly stopped by soldiers and ordered to get out of the car. She said strangers in civilian clothes also stopped her on Monday while she was driving and asked her by name where she was going. Trejo said she got out to confront them.

“They harass the whole family,” Trejo said, calling it “psychological persecution.”

She said her husband has recently started coming and going from the mayor’s office in the middle of the night for security reasons. “He’s simply protecting himself,” she said.

Trejo and Barboza both denied Rosales had left the country, as one pro-Chavez congressman had claimed. His wife held up Rosales’ passport as proof, saying he “has never refused to be tried.”

___

Associated Press writer Ian James contributed to this report.

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