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Tension Grows in Venezuela With the Assassination of an Opposition Politician

While the opposition has accused the ruling Socialist Party of involvement in the shooting of Luis Manuel Diaz on Wednesday, President Maduro has said the murder was an underworld settling of scores and warned of an anti-Venezuelan conspiracy.

by Alicia Hernández
Nov 26 2015, 9:00pm

Imagen por Fernando Llano/AP

The Venezuelan opposition is accusing President Nicolás Maduro of being behind the assassination of Luis Manuel Diaz, a politician from an opposition coalition who was shot dead on Wednesday night.

President Maduro, meanwhile, has said early investigations suggest Diaz was murdered because of links to criminal gangs and has denounced a right-wing conspiracy to blame the government for his death.

The assassination of Diaz and its aftermath have underlined the extreme tension in Venezuela ahead of key legislative elections on December 6. 

The opposition Table of Unity, or MUD, coalition believes it has a good chance of stripping the ruling Socialist Party of its majority for the first time since President Hugo Chávez took office in 1999. His "Bolivarian Revolution" is now in the hands of his hand-picked successor Maduro.

"You are the only one responsible," Lilian Tintori addressed Maduro during a press conference on Thursday.

The wife of imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo López, Tintori (pictured above) was on the same stage as Diaz — at a campaign event in the state of Guárico in Venezuela's central plains — when about 10 shots rang out and he fell to the floor.

"I checked myself because I thought I had been hit," Tintori said. "They want to kill me."

Related: Fiery Protest Leader Leopoldo Lopez Faces 13-Year Sentence in Venezuela

Tintori said she was a target of two direct threats to her security on the same day she watched Diaz shot a few feet from her. She said pro-government groups armed with sticks and stones had prevented her from leaving an airport in the state of Nueva Esparta, and that a plane she had planned to travel in caught alight after she arrived in Guárico.

"I have no doubt that the regime tampered with that plane," she said. "I have no doubt and I am not frightened of saying it."

Diaz was a regional leader in Guárico of Democratic Action, or AD — one of the political parties within the MUD coalition. Democratic Action's national leader, Henry Ramos said Diaz had supported Chávez until about five years ago. "He came to the AD repentant and his career advanced until he became secretary in Guárico."

Ramos Allup had earlier used his Twitter feed to directly accuse Socialist Party members of Diaz's murder.

President Maduro, meanwhile, sent his condolences to Diaz's family during a campaign event in Portuguesa state on Thursday, at the same time as he suggested the politician was killed because of links to criminal gangs. "The investigation has already started and the interior ministry already has evidence pointing to hitmen and a settling of scores within rival criminal groups," Maduro said.

The president went on to warn against "manipulation" of the events by the opposition, called on Venezuelans to be "on alert" for a wave for criticism from the world's right wing, and accused the secretary general of the Organization of American States of leading the onslaught.

"Not even 12 hours have passed and the piece of rubbish that is Luis Almagro of the OAS is making declarations against Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution," Maduro said.

Almagro had earlier issued a strongly worded statement in which he said the assassination should be understood within the context of other attacks on the opposition and called on the government to "stop all violence and transform the elections into a fiesta and not an exercise in force, violence and fear."

Also on Wednesday an opposition activist Luis Urbina was hit on the head with an iron bar prior to a campaign event in the southeastern state of Guayana on the border with Brazil that was headlined by former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.

Last Sunday, opposition deputy candidate Miguel Pizarro claimed he was forced to change his campaigning plans after being threatened by a group of people in red shirts carrying assault rifles in the municipality of Sucre.

Related: No One in Venezuela Is Talking About Maduro's Relatives Who Were Busted on Drug Charges

Follow Alicia Hernandez on Twitter @por_puesto