Venezuela recalls ambassador to Peru

/ Source: The Associated Press

Venezuela recalled its ambassador to protest Peru's decision to grant political asylum to a prominent opponent of President Hugo Chavez, calling it a mockery of international law and escalating a diplomatic dispute.

Peru announced early Monday that it was giving Manuel Rosales, a former presidential candidate who ran against Chavez in 2006 and now claims he is being persecuted by Venezuela's socialist president, political asylum for humanitarian reasons.

Peruvian Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde said he believed the decision shouldn't strain relations with Venezuela.

Rosales's lawyer, Javier Valle-Riestra, said the Venezuelan opposition leader was "very happy" after receiving word of Peru's decision.

But late Monday, Venezuela's foreign ministry issued an angry statement saying Peru's decision "constitutes a mockery of international law, a tough blow to the fight against corruption and an insult to the people of Venezuela."

The statement said Peru should have arrested and extradited Rosales, and announced that Venezuela was recalling its ambassador in Lima.

Disputed income
Venezuelan prosecutors accuse Rosales of illegal enrichment while he was governor of western Zulia state, saying he failed to show a legal source of about $68,000 in income between 2000 and 2004.

Rosales says he reported the disputed income in his income tax returns. He calls the accusation a "political lynching" ordered by Chavez and says a fair trial is impossible.

He stepped down as mayor of Maracaibo, Venezuela's second-largest city, three weeks ago and went into hiding. His party said he was being harassed and feared for his safety, and he entered Peru as a tourist April 4 and requested political asylum last week.

Venezuela denies the charges are politically motivated.

Peru has granted asylum to two other Chavez opponents: former Yaracuy state Gov. Eduardo Lapi and prominent labor union leader Carlos Ortega. Both men escaped from prison and fled the country.

Diplomatic relations between Venezuela and Peru were last strained in 2006, when both countries withdrew their respective ambassadors after an exchange of insults involving Chavez and Peruvian President Alan Garcia. Relations returned to normal the following year.