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Opposition leader seeks asylum in Peru

Venezuelan opposition leader Manuel Rosales has asked Peru for political asylum, after claiming he was being persecuted by President Hugo Chavez's government on corruption charges he says are baseless.

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AFP - Venezuelan opposition leader Manuel Rosales sought asylum in Peru Tuesday, claiming he was being persecuted by the government of President Hugo Chavez on baseless corruption charges.

Rosales ran against Chavez for president in 2006, is former governor of the oil-rich state of Zulia and is currently mayor of the western Venezuelan city of Maracaibo.

Rosales's attorney, prominent Peruvian legislator Javier Valle Riestra, said the asylum request was presented to local authorities at midday.

"Now all that is left is to wait for the answer from the Peruvian government, which has two months to decide," Valle Riesta told AFP.

Valle Riestra -- himself a prominent legislator and former prime minister in the 1990s -- said that granting Rosales asylum should not be considered a move by Peru against Chavez.

"If he is granted asylum ... that does not mean that Chavez is being considered as a gorilla, a thug or a despot," Valle Riestra said.

Rosales has been hiding from Venezuelan authorities for the past month after the corruption charges were filed.

One of the most outspoken critics of the Venezuelan leader, Rosales ran afoul of the leftist president after he was linked to a 2002 attempted coup against Chavez.

On the campaign trail for regional elections in October, Chavez accused Rosales of plotting to assassinate him and threatened to have him jailed.

In Venezuela, Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami said Tuesday that authorities were seeking Rosales's arrest on charges of illicit enrichment linked to the period he was Zulia governor between 2002-2004.

"If he does not present himself to the relevant authorities," El Aissami told reporters, Rosales "will be considered a fugitive of justice and the mechanisms for his international capture will be activated."

El Aissami insists that Rosales is not being politically persecuted. "He is wanted by Venezuelan justice for crimes of corruption" unrelated to politics, he said.

Rosales faces between three and 10 years prison of found guilty of corruption.

The Maracaibo mayor was supposed to appear in a Caracas court on Monday to determine if he could be allowed to remain free while his trial was underway. A new hearing was set for May 11, a member of Rosales's defense team said.

The leader of Rosales's A New Era party, Omar Barboza, said the party had decided Rosales should not surrender to the Venezuelan justice system.

Peruvian Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde earlier said that Rosales arrived in Peru with his family as a tourist, "and as a tourist he can stay up to 180 days."

Garcia Belaunde also said that three Chavez opponents have been granted asylum over the past years.

Valle Riestra said that the next step will involve Rosales delivering an affidavit explaining his situation, with Peru's foreign ministry then ruling on the asylum request.

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