Published July 08, 2012
| Associated Press
CARACAS, Venezuela – Allies of Hugo Chavez said Sunday that opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles is trying to provoke violence by campaigning in areas that have been bastions of support for Venezuela's leader.
Pro-Chavez lawmaker Juan Carlos Aleman spoke after a scuffle Saturday involving stone-throwing Chavistas and opposition sympathizers who joined Capriles as he led a march within the poor Caracas district of La Vega.
Capriles demonstrated "an irresponsible attitude by staging an event in a neighborhood that backs President Chavez," said Aleman.
Capriles called for calm and attempted to avoid any violence amid the tussle, which police broke up before violence escalated.
"I'm not walking Venezuela's streets to fight with anybody," Capriles said.
So far, campaigning ahead of an Oct. 7 presidential vote has mostly been peaceful, but observers warn the deep political polarization and rising tensions between allies and adversaries of Chavez could boil over, making for a potentially violent campaign.
"There is a risk that minor clashes between supporters of both camps could escalate and threaten social peace. The distrust is profound, and arms are plentiful," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington. "It is likely that cooler heads will prevail and the violence will be kept in check, but that is far from assured."
Police in riot gear lined up across a narrow avenue running through La Vega on Saturday, preventing Capriles and his supporters from marching through the district.
Chavez backers tossed rocks at rivals and some Capriles supporters roughed up government supporters. No major injuries were reported.
Capriles is seeking to shore up support from working-class and poor Venezuelans, which make up most of the country's 19 million voters.
Chavez has not publicly spoken about the incident.
Capriles' campaign manager, Armando Briquet, called on the National Electoral Council to send representatives to the area.
Election officials have not yet responded to the request.
Luis Fernandez, director of the National Bolivarian Police, said tensions boiled over when authorities attempted separate the rival groups and disarm Capriles supporters suspected of carrying weapons.
Police detained two people and confiscated two handguns, Fernandez said.