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Bolivia: Senator's asylum bid embarrasses Morales

Associated Press Modified: May 31, 2012 at 7:31 pm •  Published: May 31, 2012

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — An opposition senator's decision to seek exile in the Brazilian Embassy aims to embarrass President Evo Morales ahead of an Organization of American States' meeting in the Andean country, Bolivia's government said Thursday.

But Sen. Roger Pinto of Bolivia's small right-wing opposition bloc in congress said he has sought political asylum because of political persecution that made him fear for his life, including death threats against him and his family.

Bolivia's OAS ambassador, Diego Pari, called Pinto's asylum bid part of an opposition smear campaign timed to coincide with the annual assembly of foreign ministers that begins Sunday in the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba.

"The opposition is looking to create a climate of discontent with the government. It takes advantage of any opportunity to show a negative image," Pari told The Associated Press.

Pinto, from the lowlands state of Pando, is a longtime foe of the Morales government.

He was allied with four lowlands opposition governors who rebelled against Morales in 2008. But Morales won a referendum the following year that quashed the rebellion and the government began to prosecute opposition leaders for alleged corruption.

Of those four governors, two now live in exile and one, Leopoldo Fernandez, has been in jail pending trial for more than three years, charged with instigating a crackdown in September 2008 that claimed the lives of nine indigenous Morales supporters.

Pinto is a close political ally of Fernandez.

On Monday, he entered the Brazilian Embassy and his allies published a letter he signed saying that he was seeking asylum due to political persecution and claiming that he had evidence of involvement in drug trafficking by government officials. The letter did make specific allegations or provide evidence.

"I have been a victim of constant death threats, and my family has also been threatened," the letter read. Pinto did not offer details, though his daughters have said there were anonymous calls they believed came from people affiliated with the government.

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