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Venezuela rivals trade military meddling accusations
by Staff Writers
Caracas (AFP) April 3, 2013


The Venezuelan opposition and government accused each other on Wednesday of courting the country's military to meddle in April 14 elections to replace late president Hugo Chavez.

A top elections official, meanwhile, said an investigation was opened after a ruling party technician accessed passwords used for electronic voting machines, but he assured that the breach would not endanger the upcoming poll's credibility.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles is hoping to pull an upset by defeating Chavez's designated successor, acting President Nicolas Maduro, in balloting taking place one month after longtime leader Chavez lost his battle with cancer.

The brief campaign season -- which officially kicked off Tuesday but has been under way for some time -- has been marked by mudslinging between both candidates as they crisscross the country to woo voters in the politically polarized country. The focus has now turned to the country's military, which Chavez sought to put under his control after officers were involved in a short-lived coup against him in 2002.

Opposition lawmaker Alfonso Marquina presented to the National Electoral Council (CNE) a list of active military officers who, he said, "conduct activities to mobilize" voters for the election "in coordination with political leaders" of the ruling PSUV party.

Marquina, demanding a response from the top election body, also handed over an official document from the National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB) that allegedly refers to the opposition as an "enemy."

"It demonstrates that all the high-ranking officials of the national government are involved in the official communication networks of the FANB, which must be at the service of the CNE on April 14," he said.

Maduro had accused the opposition on Tuesday of "looking for soldiers who would betray the people and betray the memory of comandante Chavez, and refuse to recognize the people's victory."

"Really, there are elements, groups, that want to act inside the armed forces," Defense Minister Diego Molero said on Wednesday, stressing that the military was "impregnable."

The opposition, meanwhile, has accused Molero of taking sides in the election, when the armed forces should remain impartial. Molero has said that the military would fulfill the wishes of Chavez, who asked Venezuelans to elect Maduro.

Soldiers have interfered in politics in the past, taking part in the short-lived 2002 coup against Chavez while the late president led his own failed putsch when he was a young colonel in 1992.

Chavez, who led Venezuela for 14 years, sought the loyalty of the armed forces and even described them as "Chavistas."

Before last October's presidential election, in which he defeated Capriles by 11 points, Chavez created what he described as an "anti-coup" command.

This time around, a Capriles campaign aide, Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, warned that there was a risk of "election sabotage" after a PSUV technician got access to the password of voting machines.

Maduro's campaign chief, Jorge Rodriguez, countered that the accusation was "slander against the forces of the revolution."

But Vicente Diaz, one of the rectors of the five-member CNE board, said a PSUV technician was in possession of a password and that an investigation was under way over the security breach.

The incident is serious because no political party should have access to these passwords, he said.

But the breach would have "no impact" on the election and any sabotage would be rapidly detected, said Diaz, the only CNE member to have lodged complaints about the government in the past.

This election season has regularly descended into name calling.

Maduro has branded his rival a "fascist with a sickening face" while the opposition leader dubbed the broad-shouldered acting president a "toripollo" ("bullchicken") with the body of a bull and the head of a chicken.

The opposition mocked Maduro on Wednesday after Chavez's protege said that the late leader came to him in the form of a bird.

While visiting Chavez's childhood home in the western city of Sabaneta on Tuesday, Maduro said that one day, while he was praying, a "little bird" flew around him and sang, and that he "felt his spirit in him."

The story quickly turned into jokes on social media and the opposition sought to ridicule him.

"He tells us that he is hallucinating, seeing a little bird and that this little bird is giving him direction and orders," said Leopoldo Lopez, national coordinator of Voluntad Popular, an opposition party.

"Obviously, this requires an evaluation of the mental balance of Mister Nicolas Maduro," he said.

Maduro lashed out in return, saying he had a "right to feel what I felt" and calling his rivals "inhuman."

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