* Socialist leader's first reaction to Capriles' primary win
* Accuses opposition candidate of trying to imitate him
By Mario Naranjo
CARACAS, Feb 15 Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez vowed on Wednesday to thrash newly chosen opposition
leader Henrique Capriles in an October election and mocked his
foes for copying him to woo voters.
It was the socialist leader's first reaction to Capriles'
landslide victory in a weekend opposition primary that set up a
potentially competitive presidential election in the South
American OPEC nation dominated by Chavez for the last 13 years.
Speaking at a parliament session in southern Bolivar state,
Chavez first congratulated the Democratic Union coalition for a
primary that drew a higher-than-expected 3 million turnout.
Then he turned on them, criticizing the burning of election
records - which the coalition did to counter fears of reprisals
should the lists fall into state hands - and accusing Capriles
of representing the interests of Venezuela's wealthy elite.
"The bourgeoisie have their candidate - the candidate of the
anti-fatherland, of capitalism, of the Yankees. We are going to
thrash that bourgeoisie," Chavez said in the familiar class
rhetoric that has characterized his rule.
Raised by his grandmother in a rural hut, Chavez, 57,
projects himself as the protector of the poor and his
anti-American rhetoric has made him one of the world's
best-known and most controversial leaders.
Though from a wealthy family, Capriles, the 39-year-old
state governor of Miranda province, describes himself as a
center-left "progressive" and spends more time in shanty-towns
than in his office.
'DRESS UP LIKE CHAVEZ'
Capriles promises to preserve and improve upon the welfare
policies, like free healthcare in the slums, that underpin
Chavez's popularity among Venezuela's poor majority.
"Do you want to look like, Chavez, bourgeoisie? It doesn't
suit you," Chavez taunted in his speech.
"You should take advantage of carnival and dress up like
Chavez for a few days," he said, referring to Venezuela's
upcoming annual carnival holiday.
Capriles' weekend win has launched Venezuela's presidential
race in earnest and stoked political tensions in the already
deeply-polarized nation. Chavez supporters have been attacking
him non-stop, including over his Jewish family roots.
Though opinion polls give the president an edge for October,
Capriles is seen as the strongest candidate the opposition has
had throughout the Chavez years. About a third of Venezuelans
are undecided, and competition for their votes is expected to be
Trying to build on momentum from his weekend win, Capriles
campaigned in oil-rich Zulia state on Wednesday. Accompanying
him in a show of opposition unity was Pablo Perez, governor of
Zulia, who lost to Capriles in the primary.
"There's a hurricane passing through and the government
wants to build a wall to stop it," Capriles told reporters.
The grandson of Jews who survived the World War Two
Holocaust in Poland, Capriles is an admirer of Brazil's "modern
left" model of free-market economics with a strong social