The Venezuelan government sought Monday to downplay security fears around the country's upcoming legislative elections, rejecting the possibility of violence or a coup. With polls showing President Nicolas Maduro's populist movement on track for a landmark defeat by the opposition in Sunday's vote, speculation and rumors have swirled about possible violence or moves by the ruling party to cling to power.
Some people have tried to weave a web of intrigue around December 6. But it's going to be an electoral celebration. There will not be a coup, there will not be a 'self-coup' or a civilian-military junta. Nor will there be terrorist violence or political violence, said Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino on state TV.
Padrino announced the deployment of 163,000 soldiers to provide security on election day, with another 25,000 in reserve.
He also rejected opposition allegations that a state of emergency Maduro has imposed in 23 municipalities along the Colombian border was aimed at curbing political campaigns in the region.
He said the measure, which is officially aimed at fighting smuggling and organized crime, had reduced crime by 47%.
The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), Venezuela's harried and fractious opposition coalition, has a large lead over Maduro's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) heading into the polls.
If the opposition wins, it would regain control of the unicameral National Assembly for the first time since Maduro's mentor, late firebrand Colonel Hugo Chavez, came to power in 1999.
In related news Venezuelan officials announced the arrest of three men in connection with the assassination of an opposition leader. Luis Diaz was killed last week while campaigning against the government ahead of the congressional elections.
On Monday, the public prosecutor's office said that three men in their twenties had been arrested in connection with the murder in the central state of Guarico.
The killing has drawn international condemnation, and led to opposition accusations that Maduro's administration is endorsing political hits. Ruling party officials deny this and say Diaz was killed as part of a dispute between gangs.