Venezuela's Maduro accuses U.S. of "plot" to kill rival

Sun Mar 17, 2013 2:38pm EDT
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By Daniel Wallis

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's acting president urged U.S. 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 the 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.

Maduro 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 claim 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 on Sunday.

The United States denied the charge. "We categorically reject allegations of U.S. government involvement in any plot to harm anyone in Venezuela," a State Department spokesman said.

Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver and union leader who is Chavez's preferred successor as president, said the aim of the plan 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.   Continued...

Venezuela's acting President Nicolas Maduro (L) speaks during an interview in Caracas, March 16, 2013, in this handout photo provided by the Miraflores Palace. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout