Venezuela denies expelling Spanish lawmaker

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Venezuela denied it had expelled a conservative Spanish lawmaker Saturday, on the eve of key elections, as it considered a response to his criticism of leftist President Hugo Chavez.

Spanish Popular Party lawmaker Gustavo de Aristegui -- invited by the Venezuelan opposition to oversee Sunday's legislative elections -- was rumored to have been kicked out by the Chavez government.

"That information is false, it's pure speculation," said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro. "We're evaluating his comments ... in order to follow them up."

De Aristegui said on a television program that Venezuela had seen a "serious regression in freedoms," under Chavez, who has been in office for almost 12 years.

Venezuelan electoral rules ban foreign observers from expressing personal opinions which could influence voters.

Tibisay Lucena, president of the National Electoral Council (CNE) said De Aristegui had "meddled in the internal affairs of the country and that is unacceptable in any country, not only Venezuela."

In February 2009, the Venezuelan government expelled a Spanish EU deputy, Luis Herrero, for calling Chavez a "dictator," shortly before a referendum on changing the constitution.

Venezuelans vote Sunday in elections set to test populist Chavez and his "socialist revolution" and bring the main opposition back to the National Assembly after they boycotted the vote five years ago.

© 2010 AFP

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