Castro denounces `plot to assassinate Chavez'

HUGO CHAVEZ, the left-wing Venezuelan President, may have beamed to crowds in Havana last month that his country and Cuba were moving "toward the same sea of happiness", but his friend Fidel Castro is warning of hazardous undercurrents.

The Cuban President denounced a plot to assassinate his close ally at a conference in Miami next week. President Castro, 73, said that "terrorists" funded by an exiles' group, the Cuban American National Fund (CANF), were bent on stopping Mr Chavez from pushing through a new constitution and installing himself in Caracas for the next 12 years. The CANF's spokeswoman, Ninoska Perez, called the Cuban leader's claims "so ridiculous; I don't know if it's senility or what".

While Mr Chavez's opponents in Venezuela complained that Mr Castro was drumming up support like a foreign campaign manager, his cabinet took the threat seriously. "Cuban security services have neutralised many actions of this nature against President Castro and so enjoy considerable credibility,'' said Venezuela's Foreign Minister, Jose Vicente Rangel.