Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez could face stiff -- and certainly persistent -- opposition in next year's election.
Leopoldo Lopez, a Harvard-educated former Caracas district mayor who has fought Venezuela's ban against his running for office, appears to have scored a major victory. Lopez, 40, announced on his Twitter account Friday that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has opted to order Venezuela to allow him to run for the presidency.
Lopez tweeted that "justice was done." His allies celebrated the decision at a news conference, one of them holding up a copy of the ruling.
If Lopez is able to run for president, his candidacy could be a significant shift as opposition contenders look to begin campaigning for a primary vote in February designed to pick a unity candidate to challenge Chavez. The presidential election is scheduled for Oct. 7, 2012.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said authorities would study the court's decision before responding.
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Lopez, who studied economics at Kenyon College in Ohio and received a Master's degree at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, was barred from running for office in 2005 by the country's top anti-corruption official, the comptroller general. Lopez challenged the decision, arguing his rights were violated.
The comptroller general accused Lopez of receiving donations on behalf of an organization he led between 1998 and 2001 from the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, where his mother worked at the time.
Lopez argued the charges were bogus and said he did nothing wrong. He was among a list of politicians blacklisted due to corruption investigations, but he has not been formally charged with any crime.
The court announced during a Sept. 2 session in Bogota, Colombia, that it had reached a unanimous decision in the case, though it did not reveal how it had ruled. Under the court's rules, its decisions are released only after both parties have been formally notified.
Lopez presented his challenge in 2008 after leaving office as mayor of Caracas' Chacao district.
The decision means Lopez can now run for office, said Carlos Vecchio, a close ally of the politician.
"There's no need to wait for any decision or order" from Venezuelan officials, Vecchio said at the televised news conference.
Lopez's lawyer, Enrique Sanchez, said the court ruled that the way in which various politicians have been similarly disqualified from running violates Venezuela's constitution as well as a regional convention on human rights.
This is based on a story by The Associated Press.