LIMA, Peru, Apr 30 (Reuters) Peru said it withdrew its ambassador to Venezuela for the second time this year over ''persistent and flagrant interference'' in the country's affairs by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
In a statement yesterday, the Peruvian government cited Chavez's threat on Friday to withdraw his ambassador to Lima and cut relations with Peru if former President Alan Garcia won the Peruvian presidential election. Chavez favors leftist Ollanta Humala.
''The Peruvian government has decided to withdraw its ambassador to the Republic of Venezuela with immediate effect due to its persistent and flagrant interference in Peru's domestic affairs,'' the Foreign Ministry said.
Venezuelan officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Chavez's comments followed Garcia's criticism of the Venezuelan leader as ''shameless'' for attacking US free-trade deals with Peru and Colombia while continuing to sell his country's crude oil to the United States.
Chavez, a self-proclaimed socialist revolutionary sharply at odds with Washington, first clashed with Peru at the start of the year after openly backing Humala, who won the first round of the April 9 presidential election.
Peru temporarily withdrew its ambassador from Caracas on January 5 after President Alejandro Toledo accused Chavez of ''political meddling'' in the election by supporting Humala.
Garcia is almost certain to face Humala in a runoff in late May or early June, which polls say the former president is likely to win.
A Datum poll released this week showed Garcia leading Humala in the second round by 54 per cent to 46 per cent.
'BLACKMAIL AND THREATS' Peru's withdrawal of its ambassador followed a diplomatic note of protest to Venezuela on Friday night and Peru's complaint to the Organisation of American States over Chavez' statements.
Toledo told Chavez on Friday ''not to interfere'' in Peru's election with ''blackmail and threats.'' Garcia, whose 1985-1990 government led Peru to economic collapse, added Chavez ''did not have the moral or political authority'' to criticise him.
Chavez presents his ideas of 21st-century socialism and South American integration to counterbalance US-backed free-market proposals for the region. He often attacks US ''imperialist'' foreign policies and capitalism.
He recently pulled out of the five-member Andean Community trade bloc after accusing Bogota and Lima of scuttling the group by signing deals with the United States.
Peru and Colombia say the bilateral trade deals with the US government are vital to their economies, but Bolivia, led by Chavez ally President Evo Morales, has said it will also reconsider its Andean bloc membership.
Reuters SI VP0902