Venezuela rally backs Chavez critic
March in Maracaibo follows government's attempt to arrest mayor Manuel Rosales.
Last Modified: 21 Mar 2009 04:31 GMT
Politicians told Rosales's supporters at Friday's rally in Maracaibo they will continue fighting [Reuters]

Thousands of Venezuelans have protested in the oil city of Maracaibo against an attempt to arrest an opposition politician on corruption charges.

Activists from different opposition political parties who took part in the march on Friday spoke out against the attempt to detain Manuel Rosales.

They said it was a case of political persecution by Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president.

A former presidential candidate, Rosales is the mayor of Maracaibo, the country's second largest city and the capital of Zulia state.

Addressing Friday's rally, he said: "There is no justice in Venezuela. But we will continue fighting."

Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of Venezuela's capital Caracas, said: "What they want to do to Manuel Rosales is not a trial, it's a political lynching."

Oscar Perez, an opposition politician, said: "The persecution of the opposition is beginning.

"And I'm sure that Rosales won't be the last to go to jail."

Arrest warrant

Venezuela's public prosecutor on Thursday asked a court for a warrant to arrest Rosales.

He requested on Friday that Rosales' case be moved from Zulia, where he has wide support.

Since winning a February referendum allowing him to run for office as often as he likes, Chavez has moved to restrict the power of opposition mayors and governors.

"The persecution of the opposition is beginning. And I'm sure that Rosales won't be the last to go to jail."

Oscar Perez,
Opposition leader

He has stripped local government of responsibility for ports and airports, and put some police forces and hospitals in the hands of central government.

Rosales denies the charge that he became inexplicably wealthy during his time as governor of Zulia and says the move against him was ordered by Chavez.

Corruption is widespread in oil-dependent Venezuela, but charges are rarely brought against members of the government.

Chavez said last year Rosales should be arrested, accusing him of corruption, working with organised crime and supporting a coup that briefly ousted him seven years ago.

Chavez has in the past threatened political opponents with legal cases, but his government rarely jails them.

Several opposition leaders were imprisoned after the 2002 coup.

Last year the government used corruption charges to block several important figures from state and city elections in which the opposition won important states and cities, including Caracas.

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