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U.S. Denies Plane Overflew Venezuela

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (file photo)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The United States has denied President Hugo Chavez's assertion a U.S. military plane twice violated Venezuelan airspace earlier in the day.

"We can confirm no U.S. military aircraft entered Venezuelan airspace today. As a matter of policy we do not fly over a nation's airspace without prior consent or coordination," a spokesman for the Pentagon said in an e-mail.

Asked about Chavez's statement he ordered two F-16 jets to intercept the U.S. military plane, the Pentagon spokesman said, "I can only speak for our actions, which confirms no U.S. military aircraft entered Venezuelan airspace."

President Hugo Chavez said he ordered two F-16 jets to intercept a U.S. military plane that twice violated Venezuelan airspace in what he called the latest provocation in the South American nation's skies.

Brandishing a photo of the plane, which he described as a P-3, Chavez said the overflight was the latest incursion in Venezuelan skies by the U.S. military from its bases on the Netherlands' Caribbean islands and from neighboring Colombia.

"They are provoking us...these are warplanes," he said.

Chavez said the F-16s escorted the U.S. plane away after two incursions lasting 15 and 19 minutes each.

The perceived threat of U.S. intervention has become a central element of Chavez's political discourse and a rallying cry for his supporters.

Foes say Latin America's loudest U.S. critic is hyping the idea of a foreign threat to distract Venezuelans from domestic problems such as economic recession, rampant crime and inadequate public services.

compiled from multiple Reuters reports