CARACAS — Venezuelan security agents have detained Manuel Rosales, an opposition politician returning to the country after six years in exile, at the airport in Maracaibo, in the western state of Zulia. Opposition daily El Universal reports that the 63-year-old former presidential candidate and ex governor of Zulia, was arrested "literally as he got off the plane" late Thursday.
The onetime election opponent of late President Hugo Chavez faces charges of embezzling public funds levelled against him in 2008. El Universal cited state prosecutors as saying that the former politician was taken immediately to Caracas to hear the charges against him.
Rosales is just the latest opposition politician in Venezuela in custody, as popular leader Leopoldo Lopez faces a 14-year prison sentence.
Rosales' lawyer Jesús Ollarves denounced the manner of his detention, and insisted his client was not arrested but "handed himself over voluntarily, being put into a van in an unnecessary and exaggerated manner."
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Rosales before fleeing the country in 2009 — Photo: Guillermo Ramos Flamerich
Rosales is a leader and founding member of the opposition party Un Nuevo Tiempo, and the party's Twitter account seemed to indicate Rosales was returning to take part in campaigning for the Dec. 6 parliamentary polls. Opposition forces hope then to win majority control of the legislature and curb the power of the socialist President Nicolás Maduro, the hand-picked successor to Chavez.
The pro-government broadcaster TeleSur instead called Rosales a "fugitive from justice" who fled in 2009 to avoid prosecution for alleged financial malfeasance. It observed that his immediate goal on landing had been to attend an opposition meeting in one of the main streets in Maracaibo.