Venezuela says U.S. intelligence plane violated air space

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela said a U.S. Coast Guard intelligence plane violated its airspace on Friday and that other planes with capacity to gather information were circulating close to the South American country. "Forty-eight hours ago, an intelligence plane for the U.S. Coast Guard took off from the air base in Curacao," Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said in a televised broadcast on Sunday. "The most serious part is that this plane, a Dash-8 ... violated air space, our air space," he said, adding the aircraft was close the western Los Monjes archipelago on the Caribbean coast. The U.S. embassy in Caracas and the U.S. Coast Guard did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Venezuela's leftist administration frequently accuses the United States, its ideological foe, of plotting to overthrow the government and lay its hands on the OPEC country's oil wealth. Government critics say Venezuela's increasingly unpopular rulers are manufacturing foreign threats to rally its fraying coalition. Padrino, dressed in military fatigues, said other planes able to collect information and take photos were close to Venezuela. A U.S. aircraft carrier circulating in the region would be "very close" to Venezuela on the Dec. 6 parliamentary elections, he added. "This deserves our attention," Padrino said. "Taking into account the precedents that exist, especially in the year 2002," he said in reference to the U.S.-endorsed coup that briefly deposed late leftist leader Hugo Chavez. Opposition politician Henry Ramos took his criticism of Chavez's struggling successor, Nicolas Maduro, to Twitter after Sunday's accusations. "Not even vultures fly around here," he added, referring to the lack of international flights after airlines cut routes to Venezuela over debts. Maduro has also clashed with neighboring Colombia over alleged air space violations. Colombia protested in September after two Venezuelan military airplanes reportedly flew into its air space. (Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Additional reporting by Girish Gupta; Editing by Alan Crosby)