Hugo Chavez Opposition Concerned About Forces Present on Election Day

The campaign of Venezuelan presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said they are concerned about the presence of pro-Chavez groups like Colombian guerrillas who are known to operate at numerous polling sites and can intimidate voters.

Campaign manager Leopoldo Lopez said they identified a total of 77 voting centers where they believe armed forces, Colombian guerrillas or paramilitary groups are present in the area. That's out of a total of more than 13,800 voting centers nationwide.

Lopez told reporters the opposition turned over the list to electoral officials and asked to meet with them as well as military officers who are in charge of security for the Oct. 7 presidential election.

The National Electoral Council didn't immediately comment on the matter. Officials in President Hugo Chavez's government also didn't respond to the claims by Capriles' campaign.

Lopez said armed groups operating in some border areas near Colombia include the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Venezuelan Armed Group the Bolivarian Liberation Front (FBL). He showed a map of areas in the western states of Apure, Tachira and Zulia frequented by the groups.

He also cited the case of one polling station with about 300 voters in the town of Elorza where every single person in the last election voted pro-government. He suggested that result could have to do with the presence of FARC rebels, who have long expressed affinity for Chavez.

"It's not a secret for anyone that this is the zone of the FARC," Lopez said at a news conference.

Tensions have been running high ahead of the election, and Lopez said the opposition wants the vote to be peaceful.

Violence has sporadically broken out at events during the campaign, including a rock-throwing clash before a Capriles rally last week in which police said at least 14 people were injured.

"I think the government is playing the card of violence," Lopez said, blaming those clashes on the government.

Chavez's camp has blamed opposition supporters for provoking last week's violence, in which a pickup truck used by the Capriles campaign was set on fire.

Capriles, meanwhile, was forced to expel one politician from his campaign last week after the lawmaker was caught on video accepting a purported bribe.

The lawmaker, Juan Carlos Caldera, announced Tuesday that he is resigning from his National Assembly seat to allow an investigation. But he denied it was a bribe and said the money was given to him for his mayoral campaign.

He accused a group of pro-Chavez lawmakers of staging the incident for political purposes. Videos of the cash changing hands have been played repeatedly on state television since they were released by the pro-Chavez lawmakers.

"All of this was done with intention of tainting the candidacy of Henrique Capriles," Caldera told reporters.

Lawmaker Julio Chavez, one of those who released the videos, demanded an investigation into the finances of Capriles' campaign.

Neither campaign has publicly released details of its donors or financial contributions.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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