Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez accused his opponents on Thursday of representing U.S. interests and trying to stir up discontent in the military while he undergoes cancer treatment in Cuba.
Chavez addressed the nation on television twice by phone, saying he was in bed receiving a fourth consecutive day of chemotherapy and expected to return to Venezuela soon.
He mocked his opponents, saying their coalition is "of the United States."
"All of those attacking the Armed Force are subordinated to imperialism," Chavez said, using the formal name for the Venezuelan military. "They're following the orders of imperialism, trying to divide the Armed Force, trying to demoralize it."
He did not give details but referred to recent criticisms of some top generals by opponents, and he warned his foes: "Leave the Armed Force alone."
Chavez said the military's response to any provocations from his opponents should be to notify state intelligence agencies and remain unified.
The opposition coalition responded with a statement saying the president's remarks "show the tension that exists within the government."
"The head of state should worry about what's happening within his government," the opposition coalition said. "The message is for you, Mr. President: Leave the Armed Force alone. Don't oblige Venezuelan soldiers to say slogans in favouur of you or your political ideology."
Chavez, who says he is trying to install a socialist system in Venezuela, made his remarks during a televised gathering of soldiers in a helicopter unit. After two days without speaking publicly, Chavez appeared eager to assert himself both in domestic and international affairs.
He said he was sorry to see the unrest in London. He referred to the U.S. government's debt woes and said, "The empire is sinking."
"It's a terrible crisis they have. It's capitalism," Chavez said.
Chavez urged his military to be ready for any possible conflict like those in Libya and Syria. He reiterated his long-standing concerns about a potential conflict with the United States, saying: "They're like a wounded lion."
Despite Chavez's tensions with Washington, Venezuela continues to rely heavily on oil sales to the United States, which is its top client.
Chavez said the current economic crisis will affect Venezuela but that his government has been diversifying and becoming more independent.
He said officials planned to sign an agreement with China on Thursday finalizing a new $4-billion US loan to be repaid in oil. The leftist leader said Venezuela no longer "depends on the Yankees, the Yankee banks."
Russia is also providing a $4-billion loan to Venezuela for arms deals and other purposes, Chavez said.
As for his cancer treatment, Chavez said his body has been responding well. He underwent surgery in June to remove a tumour from his pelvic region, and says the chemotherapy aims to ensure that no malignant cells reappear.
Chavez dismissed a protest by bus drivers in parts of Venezuela on Thursday, saying he believes political adversaries were behind it.
He also expressed confidence about the presidential vote expected in late 2012. "We're going to knock them out," Chavez said.