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Venezuela said Thursday it has arrested a US national whom it accused of being an intelligence agent tasked with sowing chaos and civil unrest throughout the country.
The alleged agent, Timothy Hallet Tracy, was detained Wednesday at an airport near Caracas as he tried to leave the country, according to Venezuelan officials, who also released pictures of the American.
"Judging from the way this gentleman behaved, we presume that he belongs to some intelligence organization, because he is trained and he knows how to infiltrate, and how to handle sources and security information," Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said.
Authorities also accused the American of being linked to an organized protest effort here known by the name "Operation Sovereignty," in which student demonstrators pressed for more information about the health of President Hugo Chavez prior to his death last month.
The movement, which has also been vocal in calling for transparent and fair elections, rejected results of the April 14 presidential vote won by Chavez's handpicked successor Nicolas Maduro.
Tracy, who officials said was born in the midwestern US state of Michigan in 1978, "began to have close relations with these youths from Operation Sovereignty," Rodriguez said at a press conference.
He said Tracy was part of a supposed plot hatched by right-wing political forces in Venezuela to reject results of the election.
The American sought "to bring the country to civil war... which would immediately provoke the intervention of a foreign power to restore order and reestablish democracy," said Rodriguez, in an apparent reference to the United States.
Washington, which so far has refrained from recognizing Maduro's government, had little to say about the alleged US agent's arrest.
"We're looking for more information," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters. "I don't have a comment for you one way or another as we're still seeking more information."
Maduro won the vote by a slim 1.8 percent, narrowly defeating right-of-center businessman Henrique Capriles.
Members of Venezuela's opposition have alleged electoral fraud, claiming some voters cast multiple ballots or even used ballots belonging to people who had died.
A partial review of ballots has been planned, although a national election board has not indicated when that review would take place.
Violence in the immediate aftermath of the contested balloting led to at least nine deaths and scores of injured.
Both the government and Capriles have called massive street rallies for May 1.