LIMA (Reuters) - Peru has granted political asylum to Venezuelan opposition leader Manuel Rosales, Peru’s foreign minister said on Monday, and the government of President Hugo Chavez responded by withdrawing Venezuela’s ambassador in protest.
Rosales, a former presidential candidate, surfaced in Peru last week after fleeing Venezuela because of corruption allegations that he said were politically motivated by Chavez allies.
“The Peruvian government, in accordance with its historical tradition and commitment to international law, has decided to grant asylum to the Venezuelan citizen Manuel Rosales,” Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde said in Congress.
Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry, in a statement late on Monday, called Peru’s decision a “mockery of international law, a strong blow to the fight against corruption and an offense to the people of Venezuela.”
It said Venezuela would withdraw its envoy, halt proceedings to allow Peru’s recently named ambassador to assume office and start an evaluation of relations with Peru.
Rosales’ asylum came even though a Venezuelan court issued an order for his arrest and pushed Interpol to arrest him. His request was granted less than a week after filing for it and two prominent members of Peruvian President Alan Garcia’s APRA party helped him with it.
Garcia, an ally of Washington and a fervent believer in free trade, has often criticized the new wave of Latin American left-wing presidents led by Chavez.
Chavez, a strident critic of the United States who is popular at home, has traded insults with Garcia in the past.
Peru has a history of accepting Venezuelan asylum seekers, including a union leader central to efforts to force Chavez from office that led to a short-lived coup in 2002.
Before that, Peru granted asylum to several people who tried to help Chavez take power by force in 1992, years before he was elected president.
Venezuelan prosecutors say Rosales, who abandoned his post as mayor of the city of Maracaibo, cannot explain the source of $60,000 he made during a previous term as governor of the state of Zulia.
He tried to unseat Chavez in 2006 and an advertising campaign on Venezuelan state television accuses him of owning million dollar houses and shopping malls in Miami.
Additional reporting by Fabian Cambero and Ana Isabel Martinez in Caracas; Writing by Terry Wade; editing by Dana Ford and Bill Trott