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Venezuelan leader says coup plot generals arrested

Associated Press
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks at a meeting with a South American delegation of foreign ministers at the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. The foreign ministers representing the Union of South American Nations or UNASUR arrived Tuesday aimimg to ease political tensions and facilitate dialogue between Venezuela's government and opponents that are urging Maduro's resignation. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has added three generals to the growing list of people and entities he accuses of plotting against him.

Maduro announced Tuesday that his socialist administration had brought three air force generals before a military tribunal on charges of plotting a coup amid the anti-government protests wracking the country.

He said the generals, whose names he did not release, were working with the opposition and their attempt failed because younger officers became alarmed.

The announcement came during a meeting of South American foreign ministers aimed at easing the conflict between the government and its increasingly strident opponents.

Since taking office last year, Maduro has routinely accused opponents of plotting a coup like the one that briefly ousted his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, in 2002. He has rarely offered details or proof and few arrests have been reported.

Recently, Maduro has called the protest movement an "evolving coup d'etat," and accused the United States of waging an "economic war" and supporting those who wish to do violence to Venezuela. The protests sparked by shortages, runaway inflation and rising crime have left dozens dead.

Analysts said the arrests do not necessarily mean Maduro's administration is losing ground with the Venezuelan military, which has historically decided political fortunes at moments of crisis.

The government might be publicizing the purported coup as a way to emphasize the need for unity, said David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America.

"When you talk about conspiracies, it's basically a way of rallying the troops. It's a way of saying this is no time for dissent," Smilde said.

The timing also allows the administration to portray to visiting dignitaries that Maduro's opponents are playing dirty.

Maduro has been careful to cultivate loyalty among the armed forces. His government bureaucracy is larded with former officers, and uniformed or retired military occupy a quarter of his Cabinet. He's also given troops a television station and showered them with raises in excess of double-digit inflation.

Smilde suggested the three generals might have been expressing dissent instead of a plotting a full-blown government overthrow, given their small numbers.

"What does Maduro consider a coup? Students in the street is a coup for him," Smilde said.

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Hannah Dreier on Twitter: https://twitter.com/hannahdreier

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Associated Press writer Andrea Rodriguez contributed to this report.

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