Venezuela's Maduro says campaign sabotage suspects arrested

CARACAS Fri Apr 5, 2013 5:46pm EDT

Venezuela's acting President and presidential candidate Nicolas Maduro waves to supporters during a campaign rally in the state of Cojedes April 4, 2013, in this picture provided by the Miraflores Palace. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout

Venezuela's acting President and presidential candidate Nicolas Maduro waves to supporters during a campaign rally in the state of Cojedes April 4, 2013, in this picture provided by the Miraflores Palace.

Credit: Reuters/Miraflores Palace/Handout

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CARACAS (Reuters) - Acting President Nicolas Maduro said on Friday that Venezuelan authorities have arrested several people suspected of plotting to sabotage one of his campaign rallies before an April 14 election by cutting the power.

Both sides have accused the other of dirty tricks during a bitter run-up to the vote to choose the successor to late socialist leader Hugo Chavez. Opinion polls give Maduro a double-digit lead over his opposition rival, Henrique Capriles.

"We've captured some of the saboteurs. ... One was caught red-handed," Maduro said in a televised meeting with commanders of the armed forces.

His late boss often dramatically unveiled alleged plots against his government, ranging from infrastructure sabotage to assassination plans.

"They were going to cut the electricity to the whole of Merida (state) while I was at the rally," Maduro added.

"Who is directing this war against our country? ... There are two options here: you are either for the fatherland or you're against it."

Maduro, who visited Merida on Wednesday, gave no other details about the arrests. He has ordered the military to tighten security at electricity installations.

Both sides are courting the military, which will play an important role in next Sunday's election by guarding the voting materials and polling centers.

Defense Minister Diego Molero has made statements pledging the loyalty of the armed forces to Maduro - something Capriles complains is unconstitutional.

Campaigning on the Caribbean island of Margarita this week, Capriles said it was the duty of the armed forces to protect the will of the people on April 14.

He frequently says soldiers suffer from many of the same daily problems that trouble all Venezuelans: high crime rates, inflation, and poor public services.

The vote in the South American OPEC member of 29 million people will decide not only the future of "Chavismo" socialism but also control of the world's biggest oil reserves and economic aid to a handful of left-leaning nations round the region.

The government held a ceremony at a military barracks on a Caracas hilltop to mark the exact one-month anniversary of Chavez's death from cancer. Soldiers played bugles and fired cannons in honor of the leader who was seen as a savior by millions but derided as an autocrat by his critics.

Maduro stood with top government officials and members of Chavez's family beside a marble sarcophagus where the former president's remains are encased.

FRAUD CLAIMS?

Capriles has also said that if he wins he will end "Cuban meddling" in the military. During his 14 years in power, Chavez forged close ties with communist-led Havana.

Capriles has demanded an explanation from the electoral authorities after the opposition said an audit of the voting system by both sides revealed the ruling Socialist Party had a confidential code to open 45,000 electronic polling machines.

Government officials say such allegations were laying the ground for the opposition to invent fraud claims after the vote, and that the code was only used for maintenance.

As the election nears, Capriles has gone on the attack against Maduro and his top officials, accusing them of being only "skin-deep" socialists who pay lip service to Chavez's ideology but are more interested in lining their pockets.

The government paints him as the puppet of a rich and venal Venezuelan elite and its "imperialist" friends in Washington.

On Friday, dozens of writers, artists and musicians attended an upbeat Capriles rally at a theater in a well-off Caracas neighborhood, taking the stage to sing, tell stories and read out messages calling for political change.

"I don't want this to end like this: a meeting between friends where we take some photos of each other and that's it," Capriles said, wearing a baseball cap and track suit top in the colors of the Venezuelan flag.

"I need this to go further. We have a historic opportunity."

(Additional reporting by Eyanir Chinea and Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Philip Barbara)

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