Caracas: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro vowed Tuesday to jail opposition leaders if they incite violence at upcoming protests to pressure authorities to allow a referendum on removing him from power.
Maduro, whose opponents blame him for a devastating economic crisis, accused opposition leaders of plotting a "terrorist coup" against him ahead of Thursday`s nationwide protests.
"We must defeat the coup d`etat without impunity. Whoever gets involved in a coup plot, or calls for violence, is going to jail, sir. Shriek, weep or scream, but you`re going to jail," he told supporters at a rally in Caracas billed as an early counter-demonstration.
Maduro accused the United States of plotting against leftist governments in Latin America.
"The threat is coming directly from American imperialism," he said.
One opposition figure, Yon Goicoechea, was arrested on charges of possessing explosives he allegedly planned to detonate at the upcoming protests.
Opposition lawmaker Tomas Guanipa said the authorities had planted evidence against Goicoechea.
"Even if you throw us all in jail, you won`t stop the people from taking to the streets to fight for democratic, electoral and peaceful change," he said.
The protests are the first since electoral authorities indicated it was too late to organize a recall vote this year -- infuriating the opposition, which wants a referendum by January in order to trigger new elections.
With Venezuela hit by shortages of food, medicine and basic goods, the opposition coalition behind the referendum, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), insists that getting rid of Maduro`s socialist government is the only way out of the crisis.
Venezuela`s Catholic Church called on the government to allow Thursday`s protests to go ahead freely.
The journalists` union meanwhile said conditions are difficult for the press ahead of the demos.
Masked attackers threw Molotov cocktails and flaming excrement at the offices of opposition-leaning newspaper El Nacional on Tuesday, and authorities denied entry on Monday to a team of reporters from Al Jazeera TV.