Venezuela accuses opposition of plotting coup, seven dead

CARACAS: Venezuelan President-elect Nicolas Maduro accused the opposition on Tuesday of planning a coup against him after seven government supporters were killed in clashes over his disputed election victory.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles wants a full recount of votes from Sunday’s election after official results showed a narrow victory for Maduro, who is late socialist leader Hugo Chavez’s hand-picked successor.

Opposition demonstrations outside electoral authority offices around the country passed off peacefully on Tuesday, in contrast to Monday night when youths in Caracas and other cities blocked streets, burned tires and fought with police.

The authorities said the seven deaths included two people shot by opposition sympathizers while celebrating Maduro’s win in a middle-class area of the capital, and one person killed in an attack on a government-run clinic.

“This is the responsibility of those who have called for violence, who have ignored the constitution and the institutions,” a furious Maduro said in a speech to the nation.

“Their plan is a coup d’etat.”

Officials also said more than 60 people had been injured, including one woman whom protesters tried to burn alive, and 170 people were arrested.


Maduro said he would not allow an opposition march that had been planned for Wednesday in Caracas.

Capriles later called off the rally, accusing the government of plotting to “infiltrate” the gathering to cause violence, and then blame it on the opposition.

The opposition has not responded to specific allegations relating to the deaths, but Capriles has repeatedly called for only peaceful demonstrations and said that the government was responsible for violence by denying the call for an recount.

The prospect of prolonged instability in the OPEC nation with the world’s largest oil reserves has unnerved markets.

Venezuela’s volatile and highly traded debt has tumbled on the dispute and unrest, with the benchmark 2027 bond off more than 3.0 percent on Tuesday.

A continuation of violent protests, despite Capriles’ entreaties, could damage the opposition’s credibility.

Maduro has played up attacks by rock-throwing protesters on popular government programs such as clinics staffed by Cuban doctors and subsidized state-run supermarkets, saying they prove Capriles wants to scrap Chavez-era social welfare programs.

That accusation was a principal plank of Maduro’s campaign.

State TV has played images of burning buildings and masked demonstrators, along with footage of a failed 2002 coup that briefly ousted Chavez but led many Venezuelans to question the opposition’s democratic credentials.

Chavez back then was toppled from power for 48 hours but bounced back quickly, purged critics inside the armed forces and stepped up the pace of his socialist policies.

The election was triggered by the death of Chavez last month after a two-year battle with cancer. He named Maduro as his successor before he died, and his protégé won the election with 50.8 percent of the vote against Capriles’ 49.0 percent.

Maduro, who had initially said he was open to a recount, called on his supporters to demonstrate all week. The National Electoral Council (CNE) has refused to conduct a recount.


The electoral authority’s results showed him winning by 265,000 votes, but opposition sources said their count showed Capriles had received an additional 300,000 to 400,000 votes that were unaccounted for in the official tally.

Capriles’ team said it has evidence of 3,200 irregularities, from voters using fake IDs to intimidation of volunteers at polling centers. It wants an exhaustive review of paper ballots.

“We believe we won … we want this problem resolved peacefully,” Capriles told a news conference. “There is no majority here, there are two halves.”

The CNE said an audit of 54 percent of the voting stations, in a widely respected electronic vote system, had already been carried out.

The U.S. State Department, which had previously urged a full audit, questioned the CNE’s refusal to accommodate Capriles.

“The CNE’s decision to declare Mr. Maduro the victor before completing a full recount is difficult to understand. And they did not explain their haste in taking this decision,” said department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventell.

Capriles’ strategy could backfire if demonstrations turn into prolonged disturbances, such as those the opposition led between 2002 and 2004, which sometimes blocked roads for days with trash and burning tires, annoying many Venezuelans.

Senior government figures have raised the possibility of legal action against Capriles, the governor of Miranda state, for inciting the violence.

The controversy over Venezuela’s first presidential election without Chavez on the ballot in two decades raised doubts about the future of “Chavismo” – the late leader’s self-proclaimed socialist movement – without its towering and mercurial founder.

Maduro’s slight margin of victory raises the possibility he could face future challenges from within the leftist coalition that united around Chavez, who won four presidential elections.

At his last election in October, the former soldier beat Capriles by 11 percentage points even though his battle against cancer had severely restricted his ability to campaign.