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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two former senior U.S. officials who handled Washington's Latin America policy vigorously denied accusations by Venezuela's acting President, Nicholas Maduro, that they were plotting to kill that country's opposition leader.
Otto Reich and Roger Noriega said accusations by Maduro in a televised speech on Wednesday that they were engaged in plots against opposition chief Henrique Capriles were outrageous and untrue.
Emotions are running high in the South American country since the death last week of former socialist leader Hugo Chavez and as politicians prepare for an April 14 election. Maduro did not explain why he thought the Americans would want to bring down the business-friendly Capriles.
Reich was assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the Administration of President George W. Bush, and after leaving that post in 2004 was succeeded by Noriega.
"It's completely false. It's slanderous," Reich said on Thursday.
"And it's a little worrisome because it makes me wonder what they are creating this smokescreen to hide. I'm not involved ... I have not talked to Capriles in years," Reich said in a telephone interview.
He acknowledged he was a critic of recent Venezuelan government policies and of the government's close relationship with Cuba. The "Cubans are behind all of these propaganda campaigns in Venezuela," he said.
On Wednesday, Noriega called Maduro's accusation "absolute nonsense."
"They call you what they are and they accuse you of doing what they do. That is the way they operate," Noriega said.
(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by David Storey)