CARACAS Venezuela has detained an American citizen it says was financing opposition student demonstrations after this month's disputed presidential election, the latest in a flurry of accusations over last week's post-vote violence.
Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez said Timothy Hallet Tracy had been seeking to destabilize the country on behalf of an unnamed U.S. intelligence agency after President Nicolas Maduro's narrow presidential victory.
"We detected the presence of an American who began developing close relations with these (students)," said Rodriguez in a press conference. "His actions clearly show training as an intelligence agent, there can be no doubt about it. He knows how to work in clandestine operations."
Rodriguez said Tracy, 35, from Michigan, had received financing from a foreign non-profit organization and had redirected those funds toward student organizations. The ultimate aim was to provoke "civil war," he said.
A U.S. embassy official had no immediate comment.
The government has given scant evidence for a flurry of headline-grabbing accusations ranging from an assassination plot against Maduro to alleged sabotage of the electricity grid.
Political opponents dismiss the allegations as a smokescreen to distract Venezuelans from daily problems including high crime, frequent blackouts and one of the region's highest rates of inflation.
Opposition challenger Henrique Capriles refused to accept the result of the April 14 vote without a full recount, and the following day opposition sympathizers burned tires and threw rocks at security forces in protest.
The government says nine people were killed and numerous government clinics were attacked, but the opposition calls the official account a politically motivated smear campaign.
Thursday's accusations come days after Maduro named a new acting head of Venezuela's U.S. diplomatic mission and sent an offer of dialogue after attacking Washington for "interference" in the country's affairs
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week said Washington had not decided whether to recognize Maduro as president.
Venezuela stepped up accusations that the United States was seeking to destabilize the country after the March 5 death of socialist leader Hugo Chavez, who was frequently at odds with Washington.
Maduro in March said the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency were plotting to kill Capriles and trigger a coup ahead of the April vote. Maduro later said he himself was the target of mercenaries who entered the country from El Salvador.
The United States routinely dismisses such charges.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Deisy Buitrago; editing by David Storey)