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Venezuela Coup Figure Pedro Carmona Gains Political Asylum in Colombia - 2002-05-29

A Venezuelan businessman, who briefly held power following the temporary ouster of President Hugo Chavez in April, is now in Colombia after being granted political asylum.

Businessman Pedro Carmona arrived in Bogota Wednesday on board a Colombian air force plane that brought him from Caracas. He made no statements at the airport, and was taken away to an undisclosed location by Colombian officials.

The 60-year-old businessman faced rebellion charges in Venezuela for serving as president of a civilian-military regime that briefly held power following the overthrow of President Chavez in April. The regime collapsed after barely 24 hours, when the populist Venezuelan leader was swept back into office following civilian and military protests. Dozens of people were killed during the rioting.

Mr. Carmona, who led two successful general strikes against the government, has denied conspiring to overthrow President Chavez. He has said he only accepted the presidency after rebel generals told him the Venezuelan leader had resigned.

Mr. Carmona was under house arrest pending trial when he slipped away last Thursday to take refuge in the Colombian ambassador's residence. Colombia, which has had cool relations with the Chavez government, granted him political asylum over the weekend and on Monday Mr. Chavez agreed to let him leave.

Colombian President Andres Pastrana expressed hope the decision will not affect ties between the two countries. Relations have been strained over allegations that Mr. Chavez supports Colombia's leftist rebels - charges the Venezuelan leader denies.

Mr. Carmona is expected to stay in Colombia only temporarily. Diplomatic sources say he is planning to move a third country, perhaps Mexico.

There is a long tradition in Latin America of granting political asylum to ousted leaders or persecuted politicians. Brazil granted asylum to Paraguay's long-time dictator, General Alfredo Stroessner, in 1989. In 1992, Colombia gave safe haven to Peru's ex-President Alan Garcia who was being prosecuted on corruption charges by then-President Alberto Fujimori.