CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles announced Sunday night that he will run in elections to replace Hugo Chavez, setting up a make-or-break encounter against the late president's hand-picked successor.
Capriles slammed the government in his announcement for using Chavez's death to push the candidacy of Nicolas Maduro, who was sworn in as acting leader Friday. He also called top military brass an "embarrassment" for publicly supporting Maduro, although the constitution forbids the military from taking political sides.
"Don't fool yourselves that you're the good and we're the bad," the 40-year-old candidate said to the government. "No, you're no better than us. I don't play with death. I don't play with pain."
Capriles, who is governor of Venezuela's biggest state, also acknowledged that he faces tough odds against an official candidate in control of vast public resources who he said has the backing of the country's electoral commission.
"As one person said today, 'Capriles, they are taking you to a slaughterhouse. Are you going to be lowered into its meat grinder?'" Capriles said.
He said, however, that he had to fight for the whole country.
"How am I not going to fight?" he said. "How are we not going to fight? This is not Capriles' fight. This is everybody's fight."
In some districts of the capital, people launched fireworks, shouted and honked horns as Capriles announced he would run.
Capriles also laid out what could be main themes of his campaign, bemoaning high crime and poverty as well as the government's decision to devalue the currency by more than 30 percent.
National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello sent a response on his Twitter account: "Capriles, you messed with Chavez and with the profound love that the people feel for the Commander of the Fatherland, you made a declaration of war."
Venezuela's election commission has set the vote for April 14, with formal campaigning to start just 12 days earlier.
Maduro has already announced his intention to run as the candidate of Chavez's socialist party. On Sunday he also picked up the support of Venezuela's small communist party. He's expected to file election papers on Monday.
In a speech accepting the communist party's nomination, Maduro insisted he was running for president out of loyalty to Chavez, not vanity or personal ambition, and called on the people to support him. Chavez chose him as vice president after winning re-election October.