CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Venezuela's vice president said Wednesday that the government has uncovered a plot by unidentified groups to attack him and another senior leader.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro did not give details about the purported plot but said there are "groups that have infiltrated the country" and the authorities believe they intended to attack him and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, and then "try to blame one and the other."
Maduro announced the purported plot while announcing that he would soon travel to Cuba along with Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez to see ailing President Hugo Chavez. A large contingent of police and troops with rifles stood guard while Maduro spoke to government supporters at an outdoor rally in Caracas.
Maduro didn't provide any evidence of the alleged plot or say what sort of attacks the authorities believed to have been planned.
He didn't mention any arrests, but said, "Don't be surprised by the actions that will be taken in the coming days," Maduro said, adding that unspecified actions would be taken against "criminals that infiltrate the country."
The vice president and Cabello have often appeared together during the more than six weeks that Chavez has remained out of sight in Cuba following a cancer operation. There have been rumors of potential divisions between the two powerful allies of Chavez, but they have repeatedly insisted they are working together and united.
Maduro told the crowd on Wednesday that Chavez has gone through a difficult recovery process after the Dec. 11 operation, and that now "he's on the path to a new phase."
Chavez's supporters took to the streets of Caracas by the thousands to commemorate the anniversary of the country's democracy amid uncertainty about the president's health. Maduro led a crowd of the president's supporters in chants of "We're all Chavez!"
Before Maduro's appearance, Justice Minister Nestor Reverol told the state news agency AVN that intelligence agencies had uncovered a plot to kill Maduro and Cabello. Reverol also didn't provide details but said that security would be increased for Maduro and Cabello.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles joined thousands of government opponents at a separate gathering at a basketball arena in eastern Caracas. He dismissed the alleged plot with a barb referring to the country's high murder rate, saying there are "attacks every day against more than 50 Venezuelans."
Earlier this month, the opposition had announced plans for a protest on Wednesday but scaled back its plans after the government announced its supporters would fill downtown Caracas with their demonstration. "They wanted a confrontation between Venezuelans," Capriles told reporters.
Capriles also accused the government of providing incomplete and contradictory information about Chavez by "saying the president is walking and telling jokes, but he doesn't communicate with the country."
The president's supporters, many of whom wore T-shirts emblazoned with an image of the president's eyes, marched through Caracas in separate groups and gathered in the working-class neighborhood of 23 de Enero, which was built by Gen. Marcos Perez Jimenez, Venezuela's last dictator, and later named for the Jan. 23 date of his downfall.
Chavez, who was re-elected to another six-year term in October, has not appeared or spoken publicly since he left for Havana on Dec. 10. Government officials have said the 58-year-old president is improving after suffering complications including a severe respiratory infection, but they have not provided specific details about his health.
The opposition has demanded more information about the president's condition. Before departing for Cuba, Chavez said that if his illness cuts short his presidency, Maduro should run in a new election to take his place.
Since Chavez took office in 1999, Jan. 23 has become a date that underscores Venezuela's political divisions, with opponents often using it to protest against Chavez's government.
"What's evident today is the deep fracture, the immense division, the strong polarization that characterizes Venezuelan society," said Tulio Hernandez, a sociologist and newspaper columnist.
"The group in power is permanently trying to demonstrate the other group, the dissident one, does not form part of the same political community," Hernandez said during a telephone interview, adding that government officials are attempting to portray opposition supporters are "enemies, not adversaries."
Some government adversaries have likened Chavez to Perez Jimenez, saying both attempted to silence the news media, used the judiciary to jail adversaries and infringed on freedoms. Chavez and his supporters deny such accusations and say that the president has strengthened the country's democracy.
"Our president has brought true democracy to our country. Nobody should believe opposition leaders who say that Chavez is a threat to democracy," said Angel Colmenares, a burly 44-year-old brick mason who waved Venezuela's red, yellow and blue flag as he marched with others through downtown Caracas.
Associated Press writer Jorge Rueda contributed to this report.
Christopher Toothaker on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ctoothaker