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Colombia recalls Venezuela consul on Chavez’s threat

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Colombia recalled its top diplomat in Venezuela’s second largest city on Sunday after President Hugo Chavez threatened to expel the official for allegedly expressing support for his political opponents.

Chavez criticized Colombia’s consul in Maracaibo, Carlos Galvis, for privately welcoming opposition victories in two Venezuelan states that border Colombia during last week’s gubernatorial and municipal elections.

In a clandestinely recorded telephone conversation broadcast on state television, Galvis called the opposition’s gains “very good news.”

Chavez urged Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to recall Galvis.

“If not, I’ll expel him,” he warned.

Hours later, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro told state television that Colombia had called Galvis back to Bogota. Maduro said it was a good sign that Uribe quickly recalled the consul, who he accused of meddling in Venezuela’s affairs.

Galvis lamented that Venezuela’s state security forces apparently were eavesdropping on him.

“It’s a violation of one of my fundamental rights, the right to privacy,” he told Union Radio in Venezuela.

But he also told Bogota-based RCN television that a Venezuelan journalist had “cloned” mobile and fixed telephones at the consulate, suggesting that someone else may have made the phone call pretending to be him.

Months of sniping between Caracas and Bogota threatened trade and unleashed a diplomatic crisis earlier this year, when Colombian officials accused Venezuela’s government of supporting leftist Colombian guerrillas. But relations between Venezuela — one of the United States’ top critics in Latin America — and Colombia, Washington’s top ally, had improved in recent months.

Colombia’s Foreign Ministry has not yet commented publicly on the incident.

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