CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez and his allies accused opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles on Sunday of trying to provoke violence by campaigning in areas that have been bastions of support for the incumbent leader.
Chavez accused Capriles of trying to spur violence as part of a broader plan aimed at creating widespread political upheaval ahead of Venezuela's looming Oct. 7 presidential election.
"They are going to try to destabilize the country. I've been saying it and everybody should be alert," said Chavez, speaking to soldiers during a ceremony to promote military officers.
The socialist leader spoke after a scuffle Saturday involving stone-throwing Chavistas and opposition sympathizers who joined Capriles as he led a march in the poor Caracas district of La Vega. Police forced him to turn back without completing the march.
"Yesterday, for example, a very lamentable incident occurred. But it's evidence of this plan," Chavez said, speaking in front of hundreds of uniformed soldiers at Venezuela's largest military fort. "We must neutralize the destabilization plans."
Pro-Chavez lawmaker Juan Carlos Aleman echoed the president's accusations.
Capriles demonstrated "an irresponsible attitude by staging an event in a neighborhood that backs President Chavez," said Aleman.
Capriles called for calm and attempted to avoid any violence amid the tussle, which police broke up before violence escalated. No major injuries were reported.
"I'm not walking Venezuela's streets to fight with anybody," Capriles said. It was not the candidate's first foray into a Chavez bastion.
So far, campaigning ahead of an Oct. 7 presidential vote has mostly been peaceful, but observers warn the deep political polarization and rising tensions between allies and adversaries of Chavez could boil over, making for a potentially violent campaign.