May 20, 2013
Venezuela opposition fumes about deaths of party activists
Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles demanded justice for the shooting of three of his activists, while President Hugo Chavez promised to expand his socialist agenda if he wins next weekend's election.
With a week to go, Venezuela's presidential race looks close and tensions are rising. On Saturday, gunmen killed three pro-Capriles activists in Barinas state - th e wo rst vio lence of the campaign.
"Yesterday, sadly, violence took three lives, something that should never have happened," Capriles told hundreds of thousands of exuberant supporters at a rally in Caracas that appeared to be the largest of his campaign.
"I want to tell their families, and those angels in heaven, that we are going to defeat violence on the 7th of October."
Capriles' Primero Justicia (Justice First) party said the assailants had fired from a van that witnesses identified as belonging to a state agency, after Chavez supporters had blocked an opposition motorcade.
The government did not admit fault in the shooting, but promised an investigation into what it said was an isolated incident in the South American nation of 29 million people.
"Anything that harms peace and stability must be condemned," Chavez's campaign chief Jorge Rodriguez said.
Venezuela is awash with arms, and voters cite violent crime as their No. 1 concern. There have been gunshots and clashes at previous opposition rallies, but no deaths.
Capriles has hammered Chavez daily for his record on day-to-day problems like crime, blackouts and shoddy infrastructure a n d drew a frank response from the president.
"Efficiency, that is one of my promises for the next period. We have to correct things," the 58-year-old Chavez said on Sunday in his most direct comment on a theme the opposition hopes could sway former "Chavistas" into their camp.
Chavez has acknowledged Venezuelans' frustration with grassroots problems in his recent campaign speeches, but said things would be far worse under Capriles, who he paints as a heartless capitalist elitist.
Capriles, 40, is a state governor with a centrist view of a Brazilian-style, pro-business government with strong welfare policies. Both men have spent time in prison - Chavez for a failed military coup in 1992 and Capriles for a fracas outside the Cuban Embassy during a short putsch against Chavez in 2002.
With one week to go, polls are mixed, leading both sides to claim they are heading for victory. Venezuelans are fearful of violence if the result is close and disputed.
Of the six best-known pollsters in Venezuela, a majority put Chavez ahead, but they also show Capriles creeping up in recent weeks. Two polls put Capriles just ahead of Chavez.
Despite two bouts of cancer since mid-2011, Chavez has declared himself completely cured and is trying to recapture his old energy to win another six-year term.
He was campaigning in two states on Sunday.