Chavez says coup attempt foiled

President Hugo Chavez said his government has uncovered a plot to overthrow him and detained a group of more than three alleged conspirators.

Chavez accused them of trying to assassinate him with tacit backing from his political opponents and the United States.

A group of current and former military officers were recorded during tapped phone conversations discussing blowing up the presidential jet or bombing the presidential palace, Chavez said. He played some of the recordings during a televised speech.

“They're the same coup-plotters,” said Chavez, who survived a failed 2002 coup. Without offering evidence, he said the suspected conspirators had support from “the political opposition … the U.S. empire.”

U.S. officials have repeatedly denied Chavez's accusations that Washington has backed attempts to overthrow him.

While the leftist leader has regularly accused opponents of trying to oust him, he has not recently given such a detailed account of any purported plot.

Chavez ordered his defense minister to investigate the alleged plot involving an active vice admiral and other former military officers.

He said his intelligence services had been “following this for some time.”

Military prosecutors were questioning several officers about their alleged involvement, Defense Minister Gen. Gustavo Rangel Briceno told a news conference.

Rangel Briceno said Air Force Lt. Col. Ruperti Sanchez Caceres and Air Force Maj. Helimenas Jose Labarca Soto, along with a general from the National Guard, were among those being questioned. It was not immediately clear if the suspects were active or retired military officers.

“Several people have been called to give statements,” Rangel Briceno said, adding that while some had been trying to divide Venezuela's military, “the armed forces are more united and stronger” than ever.

Chavez ally Mario Silva, who hosts a program on state television, first played recordings of the purported phone conversations late Wednesday.