Chavez says he's ready to thwart coup

VENEZUELA - Anti-American President Hugo Chavez vowed to thwart what he says is an opposition plot to stage a coup and "ruin Venezuelans' Christmas" after an election on Monday that he expects to win.

Chavez, president since 1999 and comfortably ahead in polls, is idolised by a long-ignored poor majority who have enjoyed lavish handouts from the Opec heavyweight's oil windfall.

"We know what they are up to," the loquacious leader said of the Opposition at a news conference yesterday. "Don't think you are going take the country by surprise, ruin Venezuelans' Christmas, block highways, set fire to cars, hold protests, stage a coup and cry fraud - that's what they are saying.

"We are going to win and we hope that the Opposition will accept their defeat," he said.

The leader, who has infuriated Washington with his warm ties to Cuba and Iran and by calling President George W. Bush "the devil" and "asshole", says the United States supports the Opposition and is constantly seeking ways to unseat him.

Chavez's challenger, Manuel Rosales, 53, Governor of the western oil state of Zulia, denies the President's charge that he is planning to instigate street protests and an Army uprising after the election.

He urged Venezuelans to be watchful against dirty tricks in polling stations.

- REUTERS

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