* Says Pentagon and CIA plan to assassinate Capriles
* Maduro faces opposition rival in April 14 election
By Daniel Wallis
CARACAS, March 17 Venezuela's acting president
urged U.S. leader Barack Obama to stop what he called a plot by
the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency to kill his
opposition rival and trigger a coup before an April 14 election.
Nicolas Maduro said the plan was to blame his opponent's
murder on the OPEC nation's government and to "fill Venezuelans
with hate" as they prepare to go to vote following the death of
socialist leader Hugo Chavez.
Maduro first mentioned a plot against his rival, Henrique
Capriles, last week, blaming it on former Bush administration
officials Roger Noriega and Otto Reich. Both rejected the
allegations as untrue, outrageous and defamatory.
"I call on President Obama - Roger Noriega, Otto Reich,
officials at the Pentagon and at the CIA are behind a plan to
assassinate the right-wing presidential candidate to create
chaos," Maduro said in a TV interview broadcast on Sunday.
Maduro, who is Chavez's preferred successor, said the
purpose of the plot was to set off a coup and that his
information came from "a very good source."
During his 14 years in power, the charismatic but divisive
Chavez, who died March 5 after a two-year battle with cancer,
often denounced U.S. plots against him and his "revolution."
Critics dismissed those claims as a smokescreen to keep voters
focused on a sense of "imperialist" threat.
In kicking off the opposition's campaign in the provinces on
Saturday, Capriles said Maduro would be to blame if anything
happened to him.
MADURO TO JOIN TWITTER
Capriles, a 40-year-old centrist state governor who cites
Brazil as his economic model for Venezuela, accuses Maduro of
using his boss's death as a mawkish campaign tool ahead of the
April 14 vote.
Maduro, 50, a former bus driver who is trumpeting his
working-class roots like Chavez, has a lead over Capriles of
more than 10 percentage points, according to two recent opinion
polls. Both were conducted before Chavez's death.
Maduro has sought to emulate the late president's common
touch and emotional bond with voters but has struggled - beyond
copying Chavez's bombastic rhetoric against foes at home and
In Sunday's interview, recorded at the military museum where
Chavez's body was carried in a somber funeral procession on
Friday after 10 days of mourning, Maduro said he had cried more
when Chavez died than when his own parents passed away.
Later on Sunday, his campaign team plans to launch Maduro's
official Twitter account in another move reminiscent of Chavez.
Chavez's @chavezcandanga account had drawn more than 4 million
followers before his death - making it the second most-followed
presidential account after Obama's.
The election campaign began in a particularly nasty
atmosphere, with both sides accusing each other of dirty tricks,
and Capriles and Maduro landing very personalized blows.
At stake in the election is not only the future of Chavez's
leftist revolution but also the continuation of Venezuelan oil
subsidies and other aid crucial to the economies of leftist
allies around Latin America, from Cuba to Bolivia.
Venezuela boasts the world's largest oil reserves.
(Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Editing by Bill Trott)