A U.S. official on Friday denied claims by President Hugo Chavez that Washington masterminded an opposition boycott of this weekend's elections and was trying to foment an overthrow of his leftist government.
The South American country's two biggest opposition parties also denied any U.S. links to the election protest.
Supporters of the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez holding a poster which reads 'No to the electoral clashes, everybody to vote' during a march to protest the opposition pullout, calling it a desperate measure by parties that have lost political support, Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2005. The opposition boycott of Sunday's legislative elections has moved Chavez closer to locking in an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly, which could extend the increasingly influential leftist's time in power.(AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Chavez accused President Bush late Thursday of being behind the withdrawal of Venezuela's major opposition parties from Sunday's congressional elections, saying he had proof the CIA was "encouraging this new conspiracy." He provided no details.
"The decisions made by the political parties were their decisions alone," U.S. Embassy spokesman Brian Penn said. "We are simply not responsible for everything that goes on in Venezuela."
Chavez said Friday that seizures by federal authorities of C-4 explosives, molotov cocktails and "other materials for provoking violence" during raids in central and western Venezuela were proof of the plan for "electoral sabotage" He did not elaborate.
Penn said the Venezuelan government has made "dozens" of baseless accusations against the U.S. and insisted: "We support the democratic process."
Opposition parties have claimed fair elections cannot be held because conditions are biased toward pro-Chavez candidates. Chavez accuses them of pulling out on Bush's instructions and because they realize they will suffer big losses. The opposition candidates have trailed in the polls.
The boycott was the latest in a series of opposition moves Chavez has attributed to the U.S. government, including a short-lived coup against him in 2002, a crippling oil strike in early 2003 and a failed recall referendum last year.
"The United States, as usual, has become the suspect for everything, but that's just a gigantic excuse to mask the reality about a country with a millionaire government and a society that's poorer every day," said the leader of Justice First, Julio Borges.
Alfonso Marquina from Democratic Action accused Chavez of resorting to his conspiracy theory because "he has no arguments to refute" the opposition's complaints about a skewed electoral process.
Warning that the latest alleged conspiracy could lead to a violent effort to oust him, Chavez said he put the military high command on alert and called for "all Venezuelans to mobilize permanently across the country." But he said he wasn't overly worried about being driven from power.
"Mr. Bush, I'm going to make another bet with you. I've bet you a dollar to see who lasts longer you in the White House or me here in Miraflores (palace)," Chavez said Thursday.
Army Gen. Wilfredo Silva said Friday 9,000 soldiers have been deployed to safeguard polling stations and maintain public order during the elections.
The opposition boycott clears the way for candidates aligned with Chavez to expand their dominance of congress.
Pro-Chavez candidates are aiming to win a two-thirds majority up from their current 52 percent in the 167-seat National Assembly. That would allow them to rewrite portions of the constitution and push back term limits for the presidency and other offices.
Opposition parties accuse the national electoral council of a pro-Chavez bias and expressed concerns that a computerized voting system could compromise confidentiality. The parties that have pulled out include Democratic Action, the Social Christian party and Justice First.
National Elections Council chief Jorge Rodriguez said Friday that many opposition candidates remained on the ballot despite the boycott by several major opposition parties. He said only 322 candidates of about 5,500 had formally withdrawn.
The Organization of American States, which is helping to monitor the elections, said this week it believed conditions were in place for the elections, saying "important advances" had been made to generate more confidence in the vote.
Associated Press writers Marcel Honore, Fabiola Sanchez and Christopher Toothaker contributed to this report.
©2005 Associated Press