Friday, December 12, 2008

Venezuela's Stalin

Venezuela indicts opposition leader on corruption

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela indicted opposition leader Manuel Rosales on corruption charges on Thursday, possibly weakening adversaries of leftist President Hugo Chavez as he seeks to deepen his self-styled revolution.

The indictment, which had been expected, came after the government this year blocked several opposition politicians from running for office, sparking criticism that Chavez was using the state to silence his political enemies.

The indictment opens the possibility that Rosales, who says the charges are trumped up, could be unable to run for president in the 2012 election. Chavez is opening a campaign for a constitutional amendment allowing him to stay in office after his current term ends.
"Today we've come to confront this political lynching that they are trying to do, a terrorist trial, a political trial," said Rosales, a former presidential candidate who last month was elected mayor of Maracaibo, Venezuela's second-biggest city.

"The only thing missing is for them to investigate me for the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy," Rosales told a news conference.

The state prosecutor's office said the charges of "illicit enrichment," punishable by three to 10 years in prison, were based on a government investigation of Rosales' assets in which he was unable to explain the origin of certain funds.

Communications Minister Jesse Chacon said this week the charges against Rosales had nothing to do with politics.

A ruling against Rosales could slow the opposition after it gained ground in last month's elections for governors and mayors by winning several populous states and the capital, Caracas -- although Chavez allies won in most of the OPEC nation.
Chavez is seeking a referendum for early next year on changing the constitution to lift a two-term limit on presidential re-election, a proposal voters shot down last year in a broader constitutional reform referendum.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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