CARACAS, Feb 12 – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez reported an attempted coup against his palace by army troops in contact with "a soldier on the run in the United States," but said the government had everything under control.
"We’ve arrested some active duty soldiers who were in contact with a soldier on the run in the United States… sending messages about a so-called ‘operation independence,’" Chavez said in a government-run television interview Wednesday.
"They’re trying to infiltrate the Miraflores presidential palace, sending messages to military units located in some states governed by the opposition," Chavez said without saying how many people were arrested.
He said some military officers who received the conspirators’ messages and did not report them promptly to their superiors have been interrogated and placed under arrest.
"We’ve also seized weapons of war: rocket launchers, rocket-propelled grenades and C4 explosives" during raids in Valencia, 100 kilometres (62 miles) southeast of Caracas, and other areas in the western part of Venezuela, Chavez said.
The leader said the government has "the situation under control."
"The country must remain calm. It has a government that is alert and a good guardian and capable of stopping this outrage," he added.
The alleged coup attempt comes days ahead of a Sunday referendum on constitutional reform Chavez has been seeking since 2007 to lift term limits for the president and all elected officials, which would allow him to seek a third term in office in 2013.
The virulently anti-American president has often accused Washington of plotting to overthrow him, most recently in September, when he blamed the US government and media of backing an assassination attempt against him by retired and active duty Venezuelan military.
Several arrests were made at the time, according to the Interior Ministry.
Chavez on Wednesday warned "those looking for a military uprising" to stop, because the response by his government "would be very firm."
"They would regret it," he said.