- Hugo Chavez - Venezuela
Venezuela on Friday charged an ex-defense minister and ardent critic of leftist President Hugo Chavez with corruption, a move that could sideline one of the socialist leader's most important opponents.
Gen. Raul Baduel, who rescued Chavez from a 2002 coup, broke with Chavez in 2007 and joined opposition parties in accusing the popular leader of concentrating power and using state institutions to crack down on dissidents.
Venezuelan military prosecutor Gen. Ernesto Cedeno said Baduel was charged with stealing around $14 million.
"This investigation has to do with the theft of funds and assets belonging to the Armed Forces," Cedeno told reporters.
A television station showed military officers pushing a reluctant Baduel into a truck to be taken to court. Cedeno said Baduel had been called in to testify after repeatedly refusing to do so, but that he was not under arrest.
The charges could deal a blow to the opposition as it heads into regional elections of governors and mayors next month.
Last year Baduel, for years highly respected among Chavez supporters, helped the opposition thwart a constitutional reform that would have let Chavez run indefinitely for reelection and strengthen his hold over the economy.
Chavez has faced withering criticism around the world for blocking the candidacies of numerous politicians including one emerging opposition leader slated to run for Caracas mayor.
The government last month threw two human rights activists out of the country after they presented a report saying Chavez used state power to intimidate dissidents.
The leftist leader, who the U.S. State Department calls an "autocrat," still enjoys strong support from the OPEC nation's poor for spending soaring oil revenues on social development programs.