CARACAS Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened on Saturday to expel a U.S. diplomat he said may have advised opposition leaders on how win a vote on whether the leftist can run for re-election.
Chavez, who last year expelled Venezuela's U.S. ambassador, said the unidentified official would be thrown out if evidence showed he had taken part in a meeting he said was held in Puerto Rico.
"If this is proven, I will throw him out of the country for interfering in Venezuela's internal affairs," Chavez said during a television broadcast.
A fierce critic of the U.S. "empire," Chavez was briefly ousted in a 2002 coup the United States initially welcomed and which Chavez says was organized with help from Washington. The United States denies seeking to oust Chavez.
Chavez has called a referendum to change the constitution and allow him to run for re-election in 2012. Under current rules, the socialist leader will have to step down in 2013. The referendum is expected in February. He lost a similar vote in 2007.
The president said he possessed reports that showed U.S. advisers had met with opposition politicians to discuss how to defeat the referendum proposal. He said he was investigating reports an official from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas attended the meeting.
In an expletive-laden September speech, Chavez told U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy to leave the country in a dispute over Washington's suspected role in anti-government protests in Bolivia, a leftist ally of Venezuela.
This week, Chavez expelled the Israeli ambassador in protest over the offensive in Gaza, which he described as a Palestinian "holocaust."
(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago, Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Peter Cooney)