Rights court sides with Chavez opponent

Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The Inter-American Court of Human Rights sided with a Venezuelan opposition politician in a ruling released Friday, saying he should be allowed to run for office despite a decision that had blocked him from challenging President Hugo Chavez.

Leopoldo Lopez celebrated the decision in a speech to supporters, confirming he plans to run for president. The crowd responded with cheers of "Leopoldo president!"

"I've regained my political rights," Lopez said. "The Venezuelan state has the obligation to obey this sentence."

The court published the Sept. 1 ruling on its website Friday. It said Venezuela's National Electoral Council "should assure that the sanctions... don't constitute an impediment to the candidacy of Mr. Lopez."

Venezuela's government called the decision "politically biased."

"With decisions of this type, like the one adopted by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, a clear stimulus is given to acts of corruption," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

It said the court repeatedly "oversteps its functions" and has often taken stances against Venezuela. The government said it will await decisions on the issue by Venezuela's Supreme Court.

Venezuela is a signatory to the American Convention on Human Rights, which the Costa Rica-based regional court cited in its ruling. Lopez noted the country's constitution says Venezuela will take measures to comply with such decisions by international organizations.

A Lopez candidacy could lead to a significant shift in the field of candidates as opposition contenders begin campaigning for a primary vote in February designed to pick a unity candidate to challenge Chavez. The presidential election is scheduled for Oct. 7, 2012.

Lopez, a former Caracas district mayor, was barred from running for office in 2005 by the country's top anti-corruption official, the comptroller general. Lopez challenged the decision, arguing his rights were violated.

The court agreed, saying in the ruling that Venezuela "is responsible for violating the right to be elected."

The comptroller general accused Lopez of receiving donations on behalf of an organization he led between 1998 and 2001 from the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, where his mother worked at the time.

Lopez argued the charges were bogus and said he did nothing wrong. He was among a list of politicians blacklisted due to corruption investigations, but he has not been formally charged with any crime.

The court announced during a Sept. 2 session in Bogota, Colombia, that it had reached a unanimous decision in the case, though it did not reveal how it had ruled. Under the court's rules, its decisions are released only after both parties have been formally notified.

Lopez presented his challenge in 2008 after leaving office as mayor of Caracas' Chacao district.

He announced the court's decision on his Twitter account, saying "justice was done."

The comptroller general's office said in a statement posted on the state television channel's website that the decision was "unjust and illegal."

Chavez didn't mention the ruling as he spoke in a telephone call broadcast on television. The socialist president vowed to win another six-year term by a wide margin, saying all of his opponents represent the interests of the wealthy and the U.S. government. He called them "the candidates of imperialism and capitalism."

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