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Chavez vows to thwart vote coup plot

The Venezuelan president vows to thwart what he says is an opposition plot to stage a coup after an election on Dec 3 that he expects to win easily.

india Updated: Dec 01, 2006 11:18 IST

Anti-United States President Hugo Chavez vowed to thwart what he says is an opposition plot to stage a coup and "ruin Venezuelans' Christmas" after an election on Sunday that he expects to win easily.

Chavez, president since 1999, is comfortably ahead in polls, idolised by a long-ignored poor majority who have enjoyed lavish handouts from the OPEC heavyweight's oil windfall.

"We know what they are up to," the loquacious leader said of the opposition at a news conference on Thursday.

"Don't think you are going take the country by surprise, ruin Venezuelans' Christmas, block highways, set fire to cars, hold protests, stage a coup and cry fraud -- That's what they are saying," he added.

"We are going to win and we hope that the opposition will accept their defeat," he said.

The leader, who has infuriated Washington with his warm ties to Cuba and Iran and by calling President George W Bush "the devil" and "a******," says the United States supports the opposition and is constantly seeking ways to unseat him.

The former army officer, who is known as "El Comandante," has pledged to use the military to put down any post-vote disorder.

He has provided only vague, circumstantial evidence of a plot, which is typical of his often wild accusations.

Chavez's challenger Manuel Rosales, 53, governor of the western oil state of Zulia, denies the president's charge that he is planning to instigate street protests and an army uprising after the election.

He called for a fair election himself on Thursday, urging Venezuelans to be watchful against dirty tricks in polling stations.

"You have got to keep your eyes peeled, act like good Venezuelans and hold your ground to ensure victory," he told his supporters.

With most state institutions dominated by Chavez loyalists, the opposition is worried the vote will be rigged against them.

Although coup accusations are common in the Caribbean state, Chavez fears a repeat of 2002 when he was briefly dislodged by a military putsch. He accuses Rosales of involvement in that plot.

The Zulia governor denies the charge but Chavez cited a guest list at a ceremony for the conspirators as evidence his challenger was a "liar" unfit to govern the country.

Despite the gravity of his accusations, Chavez, 52, was typically folksy at his news conference interrupting his long-winded answers alternatively with bursts of song and long silences while he labored to perform mental arithmetic.

Deepening talk of murky conspiracies, Chavez said the authorities had intercepted a plot to assassinate Rosales, finding a rifle and sight before one of his speeches.

Chavez said the plot was planned by "fascists" wanting to pin the blame on him.

"We have neutralized loads of plots by mad people," he said. Chavez often boasts he has survived numerous attempts on his life but almost never gives any details.

The opposition accuses Chavez, who led a bungled coup himself in 1992, of being a dictator in the making, seeking to turn the country into a Cuban-style one-party state.

Rosales, a father of 10, has fought Chavez on his own populist territory, promising to dole out oil wealth more efficiently and combat Venezuela's vicious crime wave which affects all levels of society.

He also attacks Chavez for selling discounted oil to his mentor, Cuban President Fidel Castro.

"On Sunday you should be up at three in the morning with your drums and bells ... off to win for Venezuela," Rosales said.

First Published: Dec 01, 2006 11:18 IST