Venezuela's Capriles to campaign despite talk of plot

CARACAS Wed Mar 21, 2012 5:01pm GMT

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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's opposition candidate Henrique Capriles will continue a nationwide "house by house" campaign tour despite a warning by President Hugo Chavez that there was a plot to kill him, a top aide said on Wednesday.

Capriles, seeking to unseat Chavez in an October 7 election, has embarked on a three-month tour that is largely targeting pro-government districts to try to win over disenchanted supporters of the socialist leader.

The already volatile atmosphere was heated further this week when Chavez announced that evidence had been discovered of a plan to assassinate the youthful state governor, and implied that the plot came from elements in the opposition.

"There is no change to what we are doing. I think what they want is for us to suspend our 'house by house' tour, the direct contacts (with voters)," the head of Capriles' campaign, Armando Briquet, told a local radio station.

"They want us to stop. We're not going to. They want us to do it surrounded by police, but we're not going to do that either. There is no change to our political approach ... there is no information of any type that would lead us to do that."

Capriles has dismissed Chavez's comments as irresponsible, and said he did not know whether to take them as a warning - or as a threat. The 39-year-old Miranda state governor has declined an offer of protection provided by the government.

Capriles, a centre-left politician who hails Brazil as his model, said the talk of a plot was a distraction from voters' main concerns about rising prices, unemployment and crime.

Although crowds in different parts of the country have been broadly supportive of Capriles, he has been heckled by red-shirted "Chavistas" at various points on his tour, and shots were fired this month during one stop in a Caracas slum.

Briquet said members of Capriles' team had held discussions with government security officials after that incident. It was a rare meeting given the big mistrust between the two camps.

Capriles' nationwide tour has sharply contrasted his energetic man-on-the-street profile with the image of Chavez, who has had three operations for cancer in less than a year.

The 57-year-old former soldier has been in power for 13 years during which his dominant personality, folksy charisma and verbal tirades against the U.S. "Yankee Empire" have turned him into one of the world's best-known politicians.

After a third round of surgery in Cuba earlier this month Chavez is to begin radiation therapy in the coming days. The side effects of that are expected to weaken him during the campaign in the weeks ahead.

But he still has a healthy poll lead over Capriles, thanks largely to oil-funded spending on welfare projects and his enduring emotional connection with Venezuela's poor majority.

At stake in October's election is control of the biggest crude reserves in the world and Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA, which ships more than three-quarters of a million barrels a day to the United States and about half a million to China.

(Additional reporting by Mario Naranjo; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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