Chavez: Opponents Plotting Assassination

Associated Press Writer

June 2, 2005, 11:31 PM EDT

CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez warned Thursday that his opponents are allegedly plotting his assassination and urged supporters to implement "revolutionary" changes in Venezuela if they succeed.

During a speech at Miraflores Presidential Palace, Chavez told a group of Venezuelans participating in government-organized employment programs that "there are still plans to kill me."

Chavez was short on details, and he did not say who was behind the purported assassination plot on Thursday. In the past, he has accused the United States government of being behind plots to kill him.

"I put myself in God's hands and, besides, we are working hard so that they don't kill me," said Chavez, whose presidential guard boosted security measures in March in response to an alleged assassination plot.

"If this ever happens, God forbid, you must not lose your cool ... take power and intensify the revolution," Chavez added.

Chavez opponents dismissed Thursday's announcement as another government show aimed at diverting attention from domestic problems that have plagued Venezuela since Chavez took office in 1999. Detractors said scant evidence has been presented to support the claims.

"This is part of the strategy that the regime uses to turn public attention away from the problems that we face, but people know it's a lie," said opposition leader Haydee Deutsch.

"It's very similar to the tactics that Fidel Castro uses," she added.

Over the past several years, Chavez has made repeated claims that "fascist" adversaries in Venezuela and abroad have plotted his assassination.

In May 2004, authorities arrested about 90 alleged Colombian paramilitary fighters who were purportedly hired by government enemies to kill Chavez. None of the suspects have gone to trial.

In July 2003, Chavez that a plot was being hatched in the Dominican Republic to assassinate him and he appealed to the president of that nation for help. No suspects were ever detained or arrested.

Chavez alarmed his supporters in October 2002 by saying Venezuelan intelligence surprised assassins poised to shoot down the presidential jet with a bazooka as it prepared to land with him aboard at Simon Bolivar International Airport. The suspects escaped after a gunfight, he said.

Government officials, including Information Minister Andres Izarra, have said the Chavez administration has evidence of a conspiracy to assassinate the Venezuelan president, but will not make it public.

Officials in Washington have repeatedly denied U.S. involvement in any alleged plot to kill Chavez.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has called Chavez's repeated claims that the administration of George W. Bush is planning to assassinate him "just ridiculous."

Tensions between Caracas and Washington have risen in recent months due to U.S. criticism of Venezuela's purchase of assault rifles from Russia and accusations by Chavez that the United States is harboring a Cuban militant wanted on terrorism-related charges by his government.