Venezuela Says U.S. Behind Election Boycott

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Venezuela accused the U.S. government Wednesday of trying to destabilize the country by supporting an opposition boycott of the weekend's congressional elections. The United States denied the claim.

Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel alleged that the U.S. Embassy had links to moves by several opposition parties to pull out of Sunday's elections.

"We have sufficient intelligence and enough information suggesting that behind the card of not participating there are aims of destabilizing the country," Rangel said. "Behind it all, the U.S. Embassy has been very active, extremely active."

U.S. Embassy spokesman Brian Penn denied the allegations, saying the U.S. didn't "have anything to do with any of the actions of the political parties."

Venezuela's claims were the latest in a series of charges and counter charges leveled by both sides -- a situation that prompted U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield to state recently: "The United States is simply not responsible for everything that occurs in Venezuela."

As of late Wednesday, four opposition parties had officially withdrawn from Sunday's elections -- including the largest, Democratic Action, with 23 seats -- saying conditions were biased toward Chavez's allies. The Social Christian Party, or Copei, has threatened to boycott if the vote isn't postponed to ensure fairness.

The deep rifts appeared to assure pro-President Hugo Chavez candidates of even greater control of the National Assembly.

Leopoldo Puchi, leader of the small anti-Chavez party Movement toward Socialism, called the boycott a "political error."

Pro-Chavez leaders have said they hope for a two-thirds majority that would help them pass constitutional reforms to deepen the president's socialist "revolution" for the poor.