A European parliament envoy who was to serve as observer during the upcoming referendum on President Hugo Chavez’s term limits was expelled from Venezuela on Friday after calling Chavez a "dictator".
In a statement, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry said it had “invited” Luis Herrero, a European Union parliamentarian from Spain, to leave the country in order to preserve a “peaceful climate” before the February 15 referendum. Venezuela’s Globovision television reported that Herrero was escorted to the Maiquetia airport on Friday by what appeared to be members of the national guard. “Following his comments, in a sequestering operation, they took him by force from the hotel without even allowing him to take his personal belongings and his passport,” opposition member Luis Ignacio Planas told Globovision. At about 10 p.m. after a discussion with other Euro parliamentarians, Venezuela’s national intelligence agency security officials went to Herrero’s room and asked him to leave, police officials told Globovision.
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During a press conference aired on Globovision Thursday, Herrero used harsh words against President Chavez’s handling of the referendum, implying the Venezuelan President was trying to manipulate the polling schedule to his benefit and called for Venezuelans to “vote freely.” “Don’t ever let fear obstruct your vote, as a dictator has premeditated,” Herrero said. Venezuelans will decide on Sunday whether to relax limits on re-election terms for Chavez. In September of 2008, Human Rights Watch executive director for Americas Jose Miguel Vivanco was also expelled for criticizing Chavez’s policies.