Mexico ambassador kidnapped, released in Venezuela

CARACAS Mon Jan 30, 2012 7:44pm IST

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CARACAS (Reuters) - Mexico's envoy in Caracas was briefly seized on Monday in the latest high-profile kidnapping in Venezuela, where violent crime is routinely listed as citizens' No. 1 worry, diplomats and local media said.

In the classic style of "express" kidnappings that are rife in Venezuela, ambassador Carlos Pujalte was taken in the early hours in his car then released in a Caracas slum before dawn, colleagues in the diplomatic community said.

"We're so happy he was safe, I've been up following the case all night," said a senior European diplomat, whose own security had been increased in recent months.

Officials at Venezuela's interior ministry did not immediately respond to requests for confirmation of the incident. The government has been slow to release details of other kidnappings of diplomats of late.

Senior diplomats from Chile and Belarus have been briefly taken in similar incidents, according to diplomatic sources. Robbery was the assumed motive.

Late last year, Major League Baseball player Wilson Ramos, a catcher for the Washington Nationals, was also kidnapped for two days during a visit home, before being released during a raid by security forces on a mountain hideout.

Crime is arguably the top issue for voters in the run-up to an October presidential election.

Kidnappings, armed robberies and murders are common in Venezuela, an OPEC member nation with enormous oil wealth alongside widespread poverty.

Police are often involved, and murder rates make Caracas one of the most dangerous cities in the world, ranking with some war-zones.

(Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne and Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Paul Simao)

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