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CARACAS: Venezuela’s acting president urged US President Barack Obama to stop what he called a plot by the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency to kill his opposition rival and trigger a coup ahead of an April 14 election.
Nicolas Maduro said the plan was to blame his opponent’s murder on the Opec nation’s government and to “fill Venezuelans with hate” as they prepare to vote following the death of socialist leader Hugo Chavez. The United States denied the claim. “We categorically reject allegations of US government involvement in any plot to harm anyone in Venezuela,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.
Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver and union leader, first mentioned a plot against his rival, Henrique Capriles, last week. He blamed it on former Bush administration officials Roger Noriega and Otto Reich. Both rejected the allegations as untrue, outrageous and defamatory.
“I call on President Obama, Roger Noriega, Otto Reich, officials at the Pentagon and at the CIA are behind a plan to assassinate the right-wing presidential candidate to create chaos,” Maduro said in a TV interview broadcast yesterday. Maduro, who is Chavez’s preferred successor as president, said the purpose of the plot was to set off a coup and that his information came from “a very good source.”
The acting president hopes to win next month’s vote partly by riding a wave of grief from supporters over the death of the charismatic but divisive Chavez, who died on March 5 aged 58 after a two-year battle with cancer.
During his 14 years in power, the former soldier often denounced U.S. plots against him and his “revolution.” Critics dismissed those claims as a smokescreen to keep voters focused on a sense of “imperialist” threat. Capriles, who kicked off the opposition’s campaign with big rallies in the provinces over the weekend, said Maduro would be to blame if anything happened to him. The election campaign has had a particularly acrimonious start, with both sides accusing each other of dirty tricks and both candidates landing very personalized blows.
Capriles accuses Maduro of being a poor imitation of Chavez and of using his boss’s death as a mawkish campaign tool ahead of the vote. “Nicolas, I know you’re watching me ... Listen, I’m going to destroy you with votes. Here are the people!” he told a crowd in the western city of Merida. “You don’t have any people, kid, because they were followers of the president.”