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Rival of Chavez might face prison time

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took a big step closer Thursday to his stated goal of putting his former rival for the presidency, Manuel Rosales, behind bars.

A prosecutor in the western border state of Zulia said she would request an arrest warrant for Rosales, the former state governor, who in November was elected mayor of Maracaibo, the state capital. The charge is "illicit enrichment."

Rosales, who stood against Chavez in the December 2006 presidential election, winning just less than 40 percent of the vote, attributed the arrest warrant to "an order from Chavez" and said he would fight it on all fronts.

In December, Chavez announced that he was "determined to put Manuel Rosales in jail." Before the November election, he had threatened to launch "a military plan" against Rosales if he won. He has also threatened to "wipe [Rosales] from the political map."

Rosales, 56, was governor of Zulia from 2000 to 2008. In April 2002, he signed the infamous decree issued by the de facto president, Pedro Carmona, dissolving all branches of government but the executive, after Chavez was briefly ousted in an ultimately frustrated coup. The Venezuelan leader has never forgiven him for what he considers an act of treachery.

The arrest order now goes to a judge for a hearing within the next three weeks. If convicted, Rosales could face between three and 10 years in jail.

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