Venezuelan president expels US ambassador amid US-Bolivia tension

Chavez alleges that the US is plotting a military coup against him after Morales blames Washington for upheavals in eastern Bolivia. The US, however, denies these claims.

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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez expelled the United States ambassador to Venezuela Thursday amid accusations by Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales that Washington is plotting to overthrow their governments. The accusations follow deadly clashes earlier this week in Bolivia between government forces and opposition militants. Bolivia on Wednesday accused the US of supporting opposition groups in the country's eastern regions.

The New York Times reports that Chavez announced Thursday that his government had discovered a US plot to kill him in a military coup and, as a result, was giving US Ambassador Patrick Duddy 72 hours to leave the country.

Venezuelan TV aired tapes on Wednesday of phone conversations among current and former Venezuelan military officials, which purportedly referred to the coup. The New York Times also notes that Chavez "has claimed at least 26 times in the last six years that there were plots to kill him."

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The Guardian reports that none of the military officials mentioned as suspects in the coup appear to have been charged, nor has Caracas provided any evidence of US involvement. The US has denied Chavez's claims.

The coup accusations come amid heightened diplomatic tensions between Bolivia's Morales, a Chavez ally, and the US. Bloomberg reports that Morales expelled US Ambassador Philip Goldberg from Bolivia on Wednesday, accusing him of supporting opposition groups in eastern Bolivia. Bolivia's eastern provinces, which contain much of the country's energy resources, have been seeking greater autonomy from La Paz, while Morales has attempted to redistribute their wealth among Bolivia's poor indigenous peoples. The US said that Morales's charges were "baseless," and expelled Bolivia's ambassador to the US in response to Goldberg's expulsion.

Morales's accusations came after anti-government protestors ransacked government offices and seized oil facilities and airports on Tuesday, reports Agence France-Presse. Morales's spokesman, Ivan Canelas, said the violence was creating conditions for "a sort of civil war."

CNN reports that further clashes Thursday between pro-autonomy militants and government supporters in eastern Bolivia left at least eight dead and 30 wounded, according to Hugo Mopi, a spokesman for the governor of Pando, a region near the Brazilian border. Similar clashes were reported in Tarija.

The unrest in Bolivia has concerned Brazil, which relies heavily on natural gas exports from the country, reports Reuters. A Brazilian official called the protestors' actions terrorism and stated Brazil's support for Morales's government.

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