Venezuela

Venezuelan Opposition Leader Faces New Charges

He describes the accusations of influence peddling as "political prosecution"

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Leading Venezuelan opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez appeared before prosecutors in Caracas on Thursday to answer charges of influence peddling while he was a state oil company employee in 1998, an accusation he described as "political persecution."

Lopez, a strong critic of cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez and cofounder of the center-right Justice First party, is accused of funneling $120,000 in donations to his party from the state-owned oil monopoly PDVSA while he was a top-level employee there in the late 1990s.

His supporters say Chavistas have it in for the 41-year old Harvard graduate and former mayor of a borough in Caracas because he led anti-Chavez demonstrations prior to the April 2002 coup that briefly overthrew Chavez. Lopez was part of group that made a "citizens arrest" of then-Interior Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin during the disturbances.

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