- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

LIMA, PERU (AP) - A Venezuelan opposition leader who says he is a victim of political persecution by President Hugo Chavez’s government has arrived in Peru but has not requested political asylum, Peru’s foreign minister said Tuesday.

Manuel Rosales, a leading Chavez opponent, has been charged with corruption in Venezuela but says his trial there would not be fair. His political party is requesting asylum on Rosales’ behalf in several “friendly countries,” party leader Delsa Solorzano said.

Peruvian Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde said Rosales entered Peru as a tourist and had not yet sought asylum. He said he did not know when Rosales arrived.

If Rosales does request asylum in Peru, the government will evaluate his case, Garcia Belaunde told Colombia’s Caracol radio.

Rosales, who lost a presidential race to Chavez in 2006, temporarily resigned as mayor of Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second-largest city, in March and went into hiding in response to harassment and fears he could be in danger, his party said.

Solorzano, an ally and party leader, noted that no court had ordered the arrest of Rosales and that he was still free to travel. She said it took some convincing by party leaders for him to agree to go.

“It was the best option due to the serious political persecution,” she told The Associated Press.

Prosecutors accuse Rosales of illegal enrichment between 2000 and 2004 while he was governor of Venezuela’s western Zulia state. They are seeking his arrest, but a court has yet to approve the charge against him or decide if he should be detained while awaiting trial.

Rosales denies the accusation, calling it a “political lynching” ordered by Chavez.

Venezuelan Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami emphasized on Tuesday that Rosales is charged with corruption-related crimes, not “crimes of a political nature.”

“If he doesn’t appear before the appropriate courts, he would be a fugitive of justice, and as a result the court will activate mechanisms for his international capture,” El Aissami told Venezuelan state television.

An attorney for Rosales in Venezuela on Tuesday defended his client’s decision to leave the country.

“He wasn’t going to have a fair or clean or impartial trial,” Alvaro Castillo said.

Venezuelans do not need a visa to enter Peru, and can stay as tourists for up to six months.

___

Associated Press Writer Fabiola Sanchez, in Caracas, contributed to this report.

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