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Chavez mentions tanks if ally loses Venezuela vote

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s increasingly bellicose President Hugo Chavez warned that he may put tanks on the streets if a former television star running for his Socialist Party loses a state election this month.

Chavez is expected to lose control of some key states and cities in the November 23 nationwide elections for governors and mayors.

In Carabobo, where a Chavez loyalist and former late-night talk show host risks losing the governorship, Chavez told party activists he might use the tanks to “defend the people.”

“If you let the oligarchy return to government then maybe I’ll end up sending the tanks of the armoured brigade out to defend the revolutionary government,” he said late on Saturday.

In recent weeks the former tank officer also has threatened to jail the country’s top opposition leader, Manuel Rosales, whom he accuses of corruption and of plotting to kill him.

Chavez frequently uses polarizing rhetoric as a campaign tactic to mobilise party activists to vote, but rarely carries through on his threats.

But at a rally in Carabobo in September, Chavez said he was expelling the U.S. ambassador. It was his toughest action yet against Washington, which he accuses of trying to topple him.

The president, who has spent billions of dollars on weapons from Russia in recent years, ordered tanks to the border with Colombia in March after Bogota attacked guerrillas in neighbouring Ecuador.

Popular for social spending, Chavez was first elected 10 years ago. He and his allies won every vote after that until last year, when they lost a referendum to change the country’s constitution.

Since that defeat, Chavez has emphasized the importance of the upcoming elections. Widespread losses could weaken his position ahead of a new referendum he is expected to call in a bid to allow him to run again for president.

Chavez allies won 22 of Venezuela’s 24 states in 2004 elections. Pollsters estimate they are set to lose between three and eight states.

Despite the fiery talk, Chavez quickly accepted defeat after he lost the referendum, which would have extended his powers over the oil-exporting nation.

Reporting by Enrique Andres Pretel; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Xavier Briand