Peru Grants Political Asylum to Venezuelan Opposition Leader

Peru's government said Monday that it has granted political asylum to a Venezuelan opposition leader who faces corruption allegations in his homeland but claims to be persecuted by leftist President Hugo Chavez.

Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde said the decision to grant asylum to Manuel Rosales, a former presidential candidate who ran against Chavez in 2006, should not strain relations with Venezuela.

But shortly before the announcement, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro urged Peru to "comply with international law, capture the criminal Manuel Rosales and return him to Venezuela to face trial for extremely grave crimes."

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.

Rosales 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.

Peruvian Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde announced the decision before Congress, telling reporters later that Rosales was given asylum for "humanitarian reasons."

Lawyer Javier Valle-Riestra said Rosales received word of the decision Monday morning.

"Naturally, he is very happy," Valle-Riestra said.

Venezuela denies the charges are politically motivated and has issued a warrant for Rosales' arrest. Prosecutors have filed a charge of illegal enrichment against him, but that charge hasn't yet been approved by a court.

Julio Montoya, a Rosales ally, said Monday that the opposition will miss his presence "in the streets of Venezuela, fighting for democracy."

"But I think it's preferable to have him traveling the world, telling the truth about Chavez's regime," he told The Associated Press.

Venezuelan ruling party congressman Calixto Ortega said that while his party disagrees with Peru's decision, it won't hurt ties.

"If Peru's government has decided in favor (of asylum), then that is a sovereign act and Venezuela of course has no alternative but to accept it," he said.

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.