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Venezuela: Chavez Threatens Tough Action Against Opponents

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez is threatening to take action against opponents he says seek violent means to topple his government.

In his weekly radio address Sunday, Mr. Chavez accused the opposition of preparing a coup to coincide with a protest march last Saturday. He said the alleged plot was similar to the brief coup in April, 2002 which was triggered by gunfire during a large opposition march to the presidential palace.

Mr. Chavez warned that his government is prepared to put down any coup attempt and will neutralize those who want to take power by force.

The beleaguered Venezuelan leader is facing popular calls for a referendum on his leadership. Venezuela's opposition leaders say they have collected almost four million signatures demanding a recall vote. Mr. Chavez insists not enough valid signatures have been collected and is charging opponents with fraud.

Venezuela's constitution says a recall petition must be signed by 20 percent -- or two-point-four million -- of the country's registered voters.

Election officials said Sunday they expect to finish counting signatures supporting a recall vote by mid-March.

Political tensions and street clashes rattled the world's fifth largest oil producer after the 2002 coup and a strike at the start of last year. The referendum campaign is the latest challenge to Mr. Chavez's five-year rule.

Opposition leaders accuse the president of copying the dictatorial style of Cuban president Fidel Castro and of wrecking Venezuela's economy.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.