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Chavez denounces new plot before Venezuela vote

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez denounced a new plot against him just days before a referendum on allowing him to seek re-election, although many voters are likely to be skeptical.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez speaks during a rally in Caracas, February 2, 2009. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Chavez, who once led a failed coup and was briefly ousted himself in a coup after he been voted into office, frequently tells of plots to oust him in the OPEC nation, without producing much evidence, before a national vote.

The Cuba ally invariably says the plot is directed from the United States and backed by the opposition.

Chavez is campaigning for a referendum on Sunday that would allow him to stay in power for as long as he keeps winning elections. If he loses he should leave office in 2013.

Pollsters say that, whether true or not, the accusations can fire up the ex-soldier’s supporters, even if many Venezuelans suspect they are for political effect.

Before regional elections late last year, some members of the armed forces were arrested after Chavez revealed audiotapes of conversations about killing him.

Still, many voters were skeptical and opposition supporters particularly tended to believe Chavez wanted to distract voters from electoral problems such as crime and trash collection, according to polls.

Late on Wednesday, Chavez told state television some active military personnel were in custody after collaborating with another member of the armed forces who is on the run in the United States. They had sought to send messages to military units in Venezuela -- particularly in areas governed by the opposition -- and “infiltrate” his palace, he said.

Chavez, who has been in power a decade, gave no information about the timing of the plot, but said authorities had confiscated explosives and military weaponry.

Pressed for details in the interview, he said, “Let us do our investigation ... We have everything under control.”

Reporting by Saul Hudson; editing by Mohammad Zargham