European lawmaker expelled from Venezuela

14th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

Venezuela expelled European Parliament deputy Luis Herrero late Friday after he called President Hugo Chavez a "dictator" and critized the electoral council, ahead of a vote which could help keep Chavez in power for another decade.

CARACAS - "In line with instructions from the electoral power and guaranteeing the customary respect of human rights, European deputy Luis Herrero has been invited to leave the country," said a statement from the foreign ministry.

The Spanish Popular Party politician was on a commercial flight to the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo at 11:00 pm (0330 GMT) Friday, according to a ministry source.

Herrero earlier called on Venezuelans to vote freely, in comments to journalists.

"They should never be carried away when they vote by the fear that a dictator tries to impose in a premeditated way," Herrero said.

A local opposition party had invited the European lawmaker to Venezuela to observe Sunday's referendum on a change to the constitution which would allow unlimited term limits for elected officials.

Luis Ignacio Planas, secretary general of the Copei Christian Democrat party denounced the deputy's removal "by force" and without official warning.

"He didn't have the opportunity to collect his belongings or his passport. Police arrived and took him by force. Officials later went to the hotel to collect his suitcases and documents," Planas said in an interview with the Globvision private television channel.

The president of Venezuela's electoral council, Tibisay Lucena, said that Herrero had disturbed the "peace and harmony" that had so far marked the tightly-fought referendum campaign.

Herrero also critized the electoral council for extending Sunday's voting to end at 6:00 pm (2230 GMT) instead of two hours earlier, claiming the move would risk "not very transparent, anti-democratic maneuvers."

Around 100 international observers have been accredited to observe the February 15 referendum, but neither the Organization of American States (OAS) nor the European Union have official observers in Venezuela.

The South American country on September 19 expelled Jose Miguel Vivanco, a representative of Human Rights Watch, after the watchdog presented a critical report on 10 years of Chavez's rule.


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