Venezuela condemns US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for suggesting that military could topple President Nicolas Maduro's government.

Maduro, 55, who narrowly won election in 2013 to replace Hugo Chavez, is the favorite to win the presidential vote. His leading opponents are currently barred from standing.
Maduro, 55, who narrowly won election in 2013 to replace Hugo Chavez, is the favorite to win the presidential vote. His leading opponents are currently barred from standing. (Reuters)

Venezuela's ruling Socialist Party has formally selected President Nicolas Maduro to run for re-election in the April presidential election, party vice president Diosdado Cabello said on Friday.

The announcement comes as the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised eyebrows by making comments on possibility of a military coup in  Venezuelan ahead of his five-day tour of Latin America.

The US official said militaries in Latin America often "handled" transitions from bad governments, but insisted he was not advocating "regime change."

"In the history of Venezuela and South American countries, it is often times that the military is the agent of change when things are so bad and the leadership can no longer serve the people," he said, speaking at an university on Thursday, according to The Hill

Caracas slams Tillerson's comments

Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino slammed Tillerson's comments, accusing Washington of seeking to undermine democracy in Latin America and return to the days of "imperialism."

Padrino said Tillerson's Latin American tour was aimed at fomenting a regional intervention against Venezuela's socialist government.

"The armed forces radically reject such deplorable remarks that constitute a vile act of interference," he said, flanked by military top brass, before reading a formal statement of support for Maduro.

At a political rally later in the day, Maduro said he would not be bowed by Tillerson's comments.

"We will not give in. They don't know what we are made of," Maduro said.

Also on Friday, Tillerson warned Mexico, due for presidential and congressional elections in July,  to pay attention to Russian meddling in elections around the world.

The frontrunner so far in almost all polls in Mexico is left-wing former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

But in Mexico, Tillerson did not repeat his comments about military action, but reiterated a call for Maduro to reinstate a legislative assembly and hold free and fair elections.

Oil factor

Venezuela's opposition leaders have urged the military to take action to force Maduro to follow the constitution. 

Maduro maintains that the US and opposition parties are part of an international right-wing conspiracy to oust him and get their hands on the OPEC nation's oil wealth.

Trump has himself suggested possible military intervention in Venezuela, though that was widely rejected in Latin America.

His administration has imposed sanctions on Venezuela's government, accusing it of abusing human rights and corruption.

Venezuelan officials say Tillerson is particularly bitter towards them because he was chief executive of oil giant Exxon Mobil when late leader Hugo Chavez nationalised one of its oil projects in the South American nation a decade ago.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies