Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has accused the right-wing opposition of planning an anti-government coup in the guise of a rally in the capital scheduled for Thursday.
Venezuela’s political opposition, after weeks of a cross-country campaign to rally backers, will attempt to seize the streets of Caracas on Thursday with its biggest march in years in pursuit of a referendum to oust President Maduro.
Addressing a popular gathering here on Tuesday, Maduro described the country’s opposition as "coup leaders" and "fascists" because "they don’t respect the rules of the game", Xinhua news agency reported.
The protest rally-cum-march was called by the opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) to push for a recall vote against Maduro, as the country faces a severe economic crisis with chronic shortage of goods and spiralling inflation.
Maduro called upon the Venezuelan people to defend the social achievements accomplished during the last 17 years since the socialist government came to power.
"I call upon the people to defend peace, the constitution, democracy and the right to life. The right (wing opponents) are coming to do away with social rights for the people, they are coming to plague Venezuela and America with hunger and misery once again, just as they plagued us during their 200 years of domination," said the President.
Earlier in the day, Vice President of the ruling United Socialist Party Diosdado Cabello said: "All of those participating in the coup will go to jail."
"They will not receive the same treatment as in 2002," said Cabello referring to a pardon granted by then President Hugo Chavez to those involved in an attempted coup.
The Venezuelan coup attempt of 2002 was a failed coup d’état on April 11, 2002, that saw then President Hugo Chávez, who had been elected in 2000, ousted from office for 47 hours, before being restored by a combination of military loyalists and support from some of Venezuela’s poor.