CARACAS, Venezuela -- Presidential challenger Henrique Capriles on Monday lamented the killing of two of his followers during a weekend rally in the western state of Barinas and said the attack was a symptom of rising violence by followers of President Hugo Chavez against his campaign.
“Yesterday a bottle of paint hit me in the face. If this had happened to the other side, we would now be having an assassination investigation,” Capriles said at a news conference in Caracas, where he discussed Saturday’s attack on his supporters. He called on the government to “let people express themselves peacefully.”
Voters go to the polls Sunday to choose between Capriles and Chavez, who has been in office since February 1999 and is seeking another six-year term. Although most polls have Chavez in the lead, Capriles has narrowed the gap. Capriles insists he will win by 1 million votes.
He demanded an investigation into the shooting deaths of his supporters and urged that the campaign be peaceful. “The election wil be won by votes, not violence or insults,” he said.
One of the victims, Jackson Valero, was the son of Ramon "Chucho" Valero, a former opposition candidate for mayor of Bolivar in Barinas state. The shootings occurred after alleged Chavez followers tried to block a Capriles campaign parade.
Capriles wrapped up the Caracas portion of his campaign with a massive rally Sunday that attracted tens of thousands. As his campaign has gathered strength and opinion polls have shown him narrowing Chavez's lead, attacks by Chavez supporters have increased in the streets as well as over the airwaves.
During a Sunday night program on state-controlled television, the host played what he said was a wiretapped recording of a telephone conversation of Capriles’ father allegedly discussing an illegal campaign contribution.
Capriles on Monday denied any such contribution had been encouraged or accepted, and said, “The incredible thing is that they transmitted an illegal recording over a public channel,” Capriles said.
The incumbent “has distanced himself from the process of change," Capriles said. "He’s become sick with power.”
Capriles also told reporters he will announce his vice presidential running mate Thursday. Rumors point to Lara Gov. Henry Falcon, a former Chavez supporter and now opposition leader. Capriles also said he has selected an unidentified and currently serving armed forces general to be his defense minister if he is victorious.
-- Mery Mogollon in Caracas and Chris Kraul in Bogota, Colombia
Photo: Venezuelan opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, center, greets supporters during a campaign rally in Puerto Ayacucho, Amazonas state, Monday. Credit: Leo Ramirez / AFP