President Hugo Chavez has threatened to imprison the popular governor of Venezuela’s western Zulia state for allegedly plotting to kill him.
Mr Chavez levelled the accusation against Manuel Rosales – one of Venezuela’s four opposition governors – just weeks before November 23 gubernatorial and municipal elections.
Mr Rosales, the two-time governor of Zulia, is running for mayor of Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second largest city.
He ran against Mr Chavez for the presidency in 2006, but Mr Chavez defeated him with nearly 63% of the vote.
“I have decided to make Manuel Rosales a prisoner,” Mr Chavez told a group of business leaders in Maracaibo. “He cannot continue in office. ... He is one of those who wants to see me dead.”
Mr Chavez did not give further details such as who would arrest Mr Rosales or what charges he would face.
Mr Rosales denied the accusations later, calling the Chavez government a “nest of gangsters and mafia leaders” with “clearly demonstrated” ties to Colombian guerrillas.
“I respect (Chavez) as president but he has not respected me as governor,” Mr Rosales told television station Globovision.
Since taking office in 1999, Mr Chavez has frequently accused his opponents of conspiring with Washington to assassinate him. But government and opposition rhetoric is becoming even more heated ahead of November’s vote on 23 state governorships and 300 municipal posts.
In recent weeks, Mr Chavez’s allies have accused Mr Rosales of planning the president’s assassination – though officials have not presented any evidence implicating the governor in such a plot.
Mr Chavez said “it’s no coincidence” that authorities arrested two people last month in Mr Rosales’ Zulia state in an alleged plot to shoot down the presidential plane with an anti-tank weapon. He called Mr Rosales a corrupt gangster “worse than Don Corleone” of the Godfather movies.