- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

CARACAS, VENEZUELA (AP) - A leading opponent of President Hugo Chavez has decided to seek political asylum abroad instead of facing a corruption charge that he calls a setup aimed at ruining him politically, an ally said Monday.

Opposition leader Manuel Rosales, who went into hiding three weeks ago, decided not to appear in court Monday because the case against him is being used for “political persecution,” said Omar Barboza, who heads Rosales’ party.

“He won’t appear before a court that’s been turned into a political tool,” Barboza told reporters.

Prosecutors want to try Rosales _ who ran unsuccessfully against Chavez in the 2006 presidential election _ for alleged illegal enrichment between 2000 and 2004 when he was governor of western Zulia state.

They have called for his arrest, but a court has yet to rule on whether he should be detained while awaiting trial.

Rosales has denied the charges, calling them a “political lynching.” He went into hiding at the end of March, and his whereabouts are unknown.

Barboza said Rosales plans to address the country in two days. He did not say what sort of a message it would be.

Barboza said the opposition leader should not become a “trophy” for Chavez to use to try to intimidate his opponents. He said Rosales will seek asylum in a “friendly country.”

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