INTERNATIONAL NEWS - President Hugo Chavez announced Thursday that Venezuelan security forces have arrested a U.S. citizen and suspect he is a mercenary who could be involved in an alleged plot to destabilize the country if the opposition's candidate loses the upcoming presidential election.
Chavez said the Hispanic man was detained Aug. 4 while crossing into Venezuela from Colombia. The president said the man was carrying a U.S. passport with entrance and exit stamps from countries including Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya as well as a notebook containing geographical coordinates.
The man's identity was not released. Chavez did not say where he was being interrogated.
An official from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas did not answer repeated telephone calls seeking comment on Chavez's announcement.
"He has all the appearance of a mercenary," Chavez said, speaking during a campaign rally in the coastal state of Vargas. "We are interrogating him."
The man tore up part of the notebook in his possession when he was detained, Chavez said.
Chavez suggested, without offering evidence, the American might have been recruited by government opponents to instigate violent protests if opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles loses the Oct. 7 election. Chavez has repeatedly vowed to win re-election and continue trying to steer Venezuela toward socialism.
The president has repeatedly claimed the opposition plans to accuse election officials of rigging the vote and refuse to accept the results if he is victorious - an allegation that Capriles and fellow opposition leaders deny.
"A group of the bourgeoisie is preparing to reject the people's triumph, that's very clear," Chavez told the crowd of cheering supporters.
Anti-Chavez politicians also reject the president's allegations they are trying to stir up trouble by campaigning in areas that have been bastions of support for Chavez or conspiring with U.S. officials to provoke upheaval if Capriles fails to defeat the incumbent in his bid for a fresh six-year term in presidency.
So far, campaigning ahead of the presidential vote has mostly been peaceful, but observers say there is a danger that Venezuela's deep political polarization and rising tensions between allies and adversaries of Chavez could boil over.