A move to arrest a prominent opposition leader is aggravating tensions between Venezuela's government and opponents who accuse President Hugo Chavez of launching a new attack against his adversaries.
Thousands of anti-government protesters filled an avenue yesterday in the country's second-largest city, Maracaibo, after a prosecutor called for the arrest of Mayor Manuel Rosales, a prominent Chavez opponent who has been accused of corruption.
Critics say Chavez and his legislative and judicial allies are leading a two-pronged offensive by persecuting opponents and increasing presidential power through a new measure putting all airports, highways and seaports under federal control. Several key ports were previously administered by Chavez opponents.
"The persecution of the opposition is beginning, and I'm sure that Rosales won't be the last to go to jail," said Oscar Perez, an opposition leader.
Chavez has warned governors that they could be arrested if they try to resist the law bringing transportation hubs under national control.
He denies persecuting opponents for political reasons and has called for Rosales to be jailed on corruption allegations stemming from the mayor's 2002-2004 term as governor of Zulia state.