Venezuelan Coup Figurehead Escapes From House Arrest

The businessman who become interim president during the short-lived overthrow of Hugo Chavez escaped from house arrest Thursday and took refuge in the Colombian embassy, the foreign ministers of Venezuelan and Colombia said.

Pedro Carmona has asked Colombia for political asylum, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Luis Alfonso Davila said. Davila did not say how the Venezuelan government planned to react.

In Bogota, Colombia Foreign Minister Guillermo Fernandez said his nation would try to decide on the request quickly.

Carmona's escape came a day after an appeals court ordered him transferred from house arrest to jail. Echeverria said the ruling, which was cannot be appealed, violated Carmona's right to be tried in freedom.

Carmona, 60, was being held pending charges of rebellion and conspiracy. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

Carmona disappeared Thursday morning after going for a walk outside his home in a western Caracas neighborhood, his lawyer, Juan Martin Echeverria had said earlier. Echeverria had said he did not know where Carmona was.

Secret police vehicles had been posted outside the apartment building since the early morning. It was not immediately clear how Carmona eluded the police.

Chavez was ousted April 12 by military generals after a massive demonstration against his rule ended in bloodshed. He quickly regained power with the help of loyalist troops and an outpouring of popular support.

Carmona, former president of the country's largest business association, helped organize a general strike and march leading up to the coup. Claiming Chavez had resigned, military generals installed Carmona as president.

A day after Chavez's ouster, Carmona closed Congress, the Supreme Court, threw out the constitution and promised general elections within a year. Carmona was promptly arrested after Chavez returned to power.

He has denied conspiring to overthrow the government and said he accepted the presidency because he believed Chavez had resigned.

In Caracas on Thursday, tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators took to the streets Thursday, accusing Venezuela's attorney general of bias in the investigation of the coup last month and demanding he resign.

The march was the third massive anti-government demonstration since Chavez's return to power.

"We are marching to demonstrate that Venezuelans are waiting for justice, and we won't have justice while the attorney general is a man clearly partial to the government," said opposition lawmaker Andres Velasquez.

After almost six weeks, few results have emerged from Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez's investigation into dozens of deaths during civilian and military uprisings that deposed and quickly restored Chavez.

Seventeen people died and hundreds were wounded April 11 when gunmen opened fire on an opposition march, pro-Chavez protesters and security officials trying to keep the two sides from clashing.

Thursday's march coincided with mounting calls for early elections, including from members of the president's own coalition, the Fifth Republic Movement.

Fifth Republic Movement director general Francisco Ameliach said a referendum was the only way to prevent an explosion of violence like the one that prompted last month's coup.