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Venezuela's Chavez: U.S. Behind 2002 Coup, Wants Another

President Hugo Chavez (search) angrily accused the United States on Tuesday of backing a coup in 2002 and of helping Venezuela's opposition stage another attempt to overthrow him.

Chavez also accused the Bush administration of spreading lies about his government to justify its demise, saying it used similar tactics in Iraq, and of falsely charging Venezuela (search) with supporting Colombian rebels.

He said the United States was providing hundreds of thousands of dollars to Venezuelan groups that organized a petition for a recall referendum on his rule -- and to groups that are plotting his ouster.

"The government of Washington is using the money of its people to support -- not only opposition activities -- but acts of conspiracy," Chavez said in a speech to small business owners.

"The government of the United States is attacking the Venezuelan people again, just like they attacked the people of Iraq," he added.

Relations between Venezuela, a top U.S. oil supplier, and the United States have been strained over Chavez's friendship with Cuba's Fidel Castro (search) and his open criticism of Washington-backed free market policies.

The U.S. Embassy said it had no immediate comment on Chavez's remarks. But the State Department recently denied Venezuelan allegations that Washington was funding anti-Chavez groups.

Chavez accused the United States of "deceiving the world, deceiving the very people of the United States, deceiving the people of Europe" when it said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

"They are hatching a similar deception about Venezuela," he said.

He said he had evidence that Washington was involved in an April 2002 coup that ousted him for two days. He said the Bush administration "had a responsibility in the massacre" that helped trigger the coup, and that U.S. military personnel were involved alongside rebel Venezuelan military.

Chavez was toppled after 19 people died in clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters during an opposition march. The government and opposition blame each other for the unresolved deaths.

Loyalist troops restored Chavez to power. Washington was slow to condemn the coup, initially blaming Chavez for his own downfall, but has repeatedly denied involvement.

"There is no doubt: the government of Mr. George W. Bush was behind the coup," Chavez said Tuesday. "We have photos, evidence."

Chavez also accused the Bush administration of funding new attempts to oust him. He cited the case of Sumate, a Venezuelan group that organized the recall petition against him and received funds from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy, which champions democracy efforts around the world.

The Venezuelan Workers Confederation, which led a 2003 strike that failed to topple Chavez, also has received endowment funds, Venezuela says, citing documents a lobbying group obtained from the U.S. government under the Freedom of Information Act.

Chavez told Washington to stay out of Venezuelan affairs -- especially the recall effort. Venezuela's National Elections Council is determining whether the petition for a presidential recall referendum is valid.

On Monday, Peter DeShazo, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, visited the country and urged Venezuelan election authorities not to use technicalities to invalidate petitions for the recall.

But Chavez said Tuesday the real reason for DeShazo's visit was to support Venezuela's opposition. He also said DeShazo lied when he told reporters Monday that U.S. funds also have gone to support organizations allied with Chavez's government.

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