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Chavez criticizes human rights court over ruling
Chavez criticizes human rights court after ruling favors Venezuelan opposition politician
By The Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) ' Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez criticized the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on Saturday after it ruled in favor of an opposition politician who is seeking to run for president.

The Costa Rica-based court said in its ruling released Friday that Leopoldo Lopez should be allowed to run for office despite a decision by Venezuela's top anti-corruption official that had barred him from being a candidate due to a corruption investigation.

Chavez said the court is part of an international system that "protects the corrupt and obeys the mandate of the (U.S.) imperial power and the bourgeoisie."

Chavez, however, didn't respond specifically to the court's decision. "It's not up to me to comment on the legal details of that issue," he said, adding that other Venezuelan institutions would respond to the ruling.

He said the court's decision reflected "the desperation of the bourgeoisie seeking to make itself a victim, searching for a candidate whoever it is." Chavez has drawn key support from the poor since he was first elected in 1998, and has sought to portray his opponents as representing the interests of the wealthy.

A Lopez candidacy could lead to a significant shift in the field of opposition candidates as contenders begin campaigning for a primary vote in February designed to pick a unity candidate to challenge Chavez. The presidential election will be held in October 2012.

Lopez, a former Caracas district mayor, was barred from running for office in 2005 by the country's comptroller general. Lopez was accused 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 was among a list of politicians blacklisted due to corruption investigations, but he has not been formally charged with any crime and he maintains he is innocent. He challenged his disqualification before the human rights court, arguing his rights were violated.

The court agreed, saying Venezuela's National Electoral Council "should assure that the sanctions ... don't constitute an impediment to the candidacy of Mr. Lopez."

The government said in a statement Friday that it would await decisions on the matter by Venezuela's Supreme Court.

Chavez mentioned the decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights during a televised meeting with Bolivian President Evo Morales, saying Venezuela has institutions that "know how to occupy their position and defend the constitutional mandate."

Lopez confirmed Friday that he intends to run for president and said Venezuela has an obligation to comply with the court's ruling.

Venezuela is a signatory to the American Convention on Human Rights, which the Costa Rica-based regional court cited in its ruling.

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