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Venezuela's Ruling Socialists Target Another Opposition Leader

Socialist Party legislators called on Monday for a probe of another Venezuelan opposition leader accused of conspiring against President Nicolas Maduro, days after the mayor of Caracas was arrested on similar charges.

The opposition fears an investigation against Julio Borges, a parliamentarian and national coordinator of the Primero Justicia (Justice First) party, could signal a wider crackdown.

Maduro's foes accuse him of trying to distract Venezuelans from a severe economic crisis and intimidate the opposition, which is optimistic about winning control of parliament in a vote due later this year.

Pedro Carreno, who heads the Socialists' parliamentary bloc, led a group of legislators to the Public Prosecutor's Office in Caracas to request a formal investigation.

“Proof was presented,” he said via Twitter, without giving further details.

The move against Borges, 45, follows the high-profile arrest of Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, 59.

Government officials and state media have alleged both Ledezma and Borges have a long history of plotting violence against the government and were involved in what it describes as a coup plan spearheaded by air force officers with U.S. backing.

Both politicians call the charges against them false and a smokescreen to hide a severe recession, near-70 percent annual inflation and chronic shortages.

“We have to be ready in case the government illegally detains Julio Borges at any moment,” fellow opposition leader Henry Ramos said on Monday, according to local media.

Borges, a veteran politician, lawyer and father of four, has long accused the government of corruption and misusing the country's oil wealth. He made headlines in 2013 when he was punched in the face during a parliamentary brawl.

Borges says he is focused on overturning the government's majority during the coming vote, for which no date has been set.

Government supporters frequently remind voters that Borges backed a short-lived 2002 coup against Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chavez. National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello recently accused him of planning to murder Leopoldo Lopez - another jailed opposition leader - in 2014 to sow chaos.

In the latest of daily speeches denouncing the United States and his domestic opponents, Maduro told supporters he would not hesitate to jail anyone plotting against him.

“We're going to apply an iron fist to anyone who is conspiring,” he thundered to a crowd in Yaracuy state.

The U.S. government, which did endorse the 2002 putsch against Chavez, has dismissed as “ludicrous” Venezuela's latest accusations against it.