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Rights court sides with Chavez opponent
Human rights court rules opposition politician should be able to seek office in Venezuela
By The Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) ' The Inter-American Court of Human Rights sided with a Venezuelan opposition politician in a ruling released Friday, saying he should be allowed to run for office despite a decision that had blocked him from challenging President Hugo Chavez.

Leopoldo Lopez first announced the decision on his Twitter account, saying "justice was done." His allies celebrated the decision at a news conference, one of them holding up a copy of the ruling.

A Lopez candidacy could lead to a significant shift in the field of candidates as opposition contenders begin campaigning for a primary vote in February designed to pick a unity candidate to challenge Chavez. The presidential election is scheduled for Oct. 7, 2012.

The court published the Sept. 1 ruling on its website Friday. It said Venezuela's National Electoral Council "should assure that the sanctions... don't constitute an impediment to the candidacy of Mr. Lopez."

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said authorities would study the court's decision before responding.

Lopez, a former Caracas district mayor, was barred from running for office in 2005 by the country's top anti-corruption official, the comptroller general. He challenged the decision, arguing his rights were violated.

The court agreed, saying in the ruling that Venezuela "is responsible for violating the right to be elected."

The comptroller general accused Lopez 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 argued the charges were bogus and said he did nothing wrong. He was among a list of politicians blacklisted due to corruption investigations, but he has not been formally charged with any crime.

The court announced during a Sept. 2 session in Bogota, Colombia, that it had reached a unanimous decision in the case, though it did not reveal how it had ruled. Under the court's rules, its decisions are released only after both parties have been formally notified.

Lopez presented his challenge in 2008 after leaving office as mayor of Caracas' Chacao district.

The decision means Lopez can now run for office, said Carlos Vecchio, a close ally of the politician.

"There's no need to wait for any decision or order" from Venezuelan officials, Vecchio said at the televised news conference.

Lopez's lawyer, Enrique Sanchez, said the court ruled that the way in which various politicians have been similarly disqualified from running violates Venezuela's constitution as well as a regional convention on human rights.

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