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Venezuelan mayor 'seeking asylum' in Peru

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  • Venezuelan mayor Manuel Rosales seeking asylum in Peru, his lawyer says
  • Rosales says corruption charges are trumped-up, cites political reasons
  • Mayor was supposed to have turned himself in Monday but failed to appear
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LIMA, Peru (CNN) -- A Venezuelan mayor who says President Hugo Chavez is persecuting him on trumped-up corruption charges is seeking political asylum in Peru, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Manuel Rosales, mayor of Maracaibo in Venezuela's Zulia state, is seeking asylum in Peru.

Manuel Rosales, mayor of Maracaibo in Venezuela's Zulia state, is seeking asylum in Peru.

Manuel Rosales, a leading political opponent who lost the 2006 presidential race to Hugo Chavez, faces corruption charges in Venezuela.

He was supposed to have turned himself in to authorities on Monday but failed to appear.

"According to the jurisprudential traditions of Peru and the historic traditions of asylum, Peru has to accept this petition for asylum, because it concerns a political leader, a man of great responsibility, and because Hugo Chavez has made impassioned public declarations against him in plazas and stadiums," attorney Javier Valle Riestra told CNN en Español.

"That makes one doubt that there could be an impartial process."

He told reporters he expected Peru's government would make a decision within two months.

A spokesman for Rosales' party, A New Time, predicted the mayor would not lose his impact as an opposition party leader, despite efforts by the ruling party to trim his powers.

"All the powers have been activated to castrate, to lynch politically a leader who has guided the country along the democratic path, through the electoral road," Timoteo Zambrano told reporters.

In Venezuela, government authorities criticized Rosales' attitude.

"Not presenting himself before a competent tribunal would be make him a fugitive from justice and, in consequence, mechanisms determined by that tribunal will be activated for his capture," said Tareq El Aissami, minister of interior and justice in Venezuela.

"Here, an investigation by Interpol has to be asked for," said Congresswoman Iris Varela, a member of Chavez's party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

Zambrano promised that Rosales will respond in the next few days.

Belaunde told CNN en Español that Rosales entered Peru on a tourist visa.

Venezuelan officials say Rosales illegally enriched himself as governor of Zulia state from 2002 to 2004.

Rosales denies the allegation and says Chavez is out to get him for political reasons, and is persecuting him on trumped-up corruption charges.

"Since they haven't been able to take me off the political map by the electoral route, now they're using the power they have in all the movements of the public prosecutor," Rosales told CNN en Español last month.

One of Rosales' lawyers noted that Chavez said publicly in October 2008, before Rosales was charged, that he wanted the mayor in prison.

Another prominent Chavez opponent was arrested this month on corruption charges.

Former Venezuelan Defense Minister Raul Baduel played a key role in turning back a coup attempt against Chavez in 2002 but broke with him in November 2007 over constitutional changes Chavez was proposing. Baduel has been a strong Chavez critic since then.

Baduel, who also was the president's military general-in-chief, was arrested at gunpoint in front of his wife on April 2, the general's attorney said at the time. It was Baduel's second arrest on charges that he stole $14 million from the armed forces.

He denied the allegation and last year said the charges were politically motivated.

In last month's interview, Rosales called the charges that he had illegally accepted money "totally false," and said he not only declared all of his income, but paid taxes on it.

Katiuska Plaza, district attorney for Zulia state, said in a 26-count complaint last month that Rosales illegally enriched himself in 2002 and 2004.

Rosales called the district attorney's actions "a manipulation," and said the prosecutor "is acting on Chavez's orders."

Journalist Andreina Flores in Caracas and Maria Elena Belaunde in Lima contributed to this story.

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