NEW DELHI - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Saturday he had evidence that the United States was planning to assassinate him, an allegation the U.S. government earlier dismissed as "wild."
"We have enough evidence ... If anything happens to me, the person responsible will be the president of the United States," Chavez told reporters in New Delhi. He did not elaborate.
The exchange of accusations between the left-wing Chavez and U.S. officials has reached fever pitch in recent weeks, raising questions whether the multibillion-dollar energy relationship between Washington and one of its top oil suppliers is at risk.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, standing left, addresses a gathering in Calcutta, India, Saturday, March 5, 2005. Chavez said Saturday a report by Iraq's health ministry claimed that US forces in Iraq had used mustard gas and nerve gas during their assault on the town of Fallujah last year. In the backdrop is a map of Venezuela. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)
Chavez said on Feb. 20 the United States was plotting to kill him, and his foreign minister said three days later that U.S. accusations against Chavez were a sign of an impending attack. Washington dismissed what it termed Chavez's "wild charges."
U.S. officials portray the former paratrooper, a virulent critic of President Bush, as an authoritarian menace. Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice has singled out self-proclaimed socialist Chavez as a "destabilizing influence" in Latin America.
They have also renewed charges that Chavez, a firebrand nationalist, shelters Colombian Marxist rebels and recently criticized Venezuelan purchases of Russian automatic rifles.
Chavez said in New Delhi he had no quarrel with the people of United States, only with its government. He cited U.S. action in Iraq and said the U.S. government was a threat to the entire world.
Venezuela's relations with the United States have been strained since leftist Chavez was elected in 1998. He has bolstered ties with anti-U.S. countries such as Cuba and alleged Washington was involved in a failed coup against him in 2002.
Many analysts see the rhetoric aimed at domestic political audiences and do not believe it heralds any imminent diplomatic or commercial rift. ALthough Chavez is exploring new oil markets like China, U.S. oil companies continue to negotiate major investments in Venezuela.
On Friday, Chavez said his country would not stop supplying oil to the United States unless "the U.S. government gets a little bit crazy and tries to hurt us."
© 2005 Reuters Ltd