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Venezuela rules out vote recount

18 April 2013, 15:11

Caracas - Opposition leader Henrique Capriles formally requested a recount in Venezuela's disputed presidential election on Wednesday, even after being rebuffed by the country's Supreme Court.

The drama played out against spiking political tensions since Sunday's vote to replace the late president Hugo Chavez, which ended in a narrow win for his handpicked successor Nicolas Maduro.

Eight people were killed and dozens more injured in post-election violence in the oil-rich South American country on Monday - mainly in big cities, where Capriles did well. Each side has accused the other of stoking violence.

For a second straight night, Venezuelans vented their frustrations by banging on pots and pans and honking car horns while Maduro's supporters blasted off fireworks across Caracas to drown them out.

Capriles' campaign chiefs took their demands for a recount to the headquarters of the National Election Council, whose president Tibisay Lucena received their petition, telling reporters "the right to protest and the right to dissent must be respected".

"We explained that a political solution to the crisis is needed, and we hope that, as soon as possible, in the next announcement of the [council] we have a solution," said Carlos Ocariz, the head of Capriles's campaign. He said they provided evidence of election irregularities with the request.

Manual recount impossible

Maduro, who had been declared the winner of the elections by 50.8% to 49%, said he would support "totally and fully" whatever the election council decides.

Earlier, Chief Justice Luisa Estela Morales said the opposition request for a recount was "an impossibility", because Venezuela's computerised voting system does not allow for the kind of vote-by-vote recount demanded by Capriles.

"When you go around demanding something which is impossible, demanding a manual recount... without a doubt what you are doing is inciting endless street fighting. And people should be held responsible for that," said Morales.

The court is widely seen as leaning toward the leftist government set up by Chavez, who led Venezuela for 14 years, dominating political life in his country and the Latin American left.

The tough talk from the high court has opposition members worried that legal repression could be forthcoming.

Capriles said on Tuesday he was willing to open a dialogue with the 50-year-old Maduro, after initially saying the president-elect's win was "illegitimate".

Call for Capriles removal

And the 40-year-old Capriles, who lost to Chavez in October elections, said on Wednesday he had presented a formal petition to the electoral board for a full recount based on documents he says demonstrate irregularities in the balloting.

The national electoral council, however, has already validated Maduro's victory.

On Wednesday, supporters of the late Chavez and his oil-funded social programmes rallied under the nose of Capriles outside his residence in northern Miranda state, calling for him to be removed as the state's governor.

"The people's votes are what make someone Miranda governor, and they are what removes someone as governor too," Capriles tweeted.

Maduro, aged 50, a former bus driver who worked his way up in politics and spent a decade in Chavez's shadow, is to be sworn in Friday to complete the late leader's six-year term, which began on 10 January.

The government stepped up pressure on Capriles to give in and concede defeat, and said 15 countries have now confirmed they will send delegations to attend Maduro's swearing in. Many countries in Latin America have said they recognise Maduro as the victor, except Paraguay, which wants a recount.

US not ready to recognise Maduro

"There is no other option but to recognise that victory," Information Minister Ernesto Villegas told a news conference on Tuesday night, in an allusion to Capriles's refusal to throw in the towel.

Villegas denied there was anything inappropriate in the voting.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday Washington was not yet ready to recognise Maduro, telling lawmakers: "We think there ought to be a recount."

The White House meanwhile called on the government to protect the rights of free speech and assembly, and warned against more post-election violence.

Maduro quickly responded to Kerry's remarks.

"We don't care about your recognition," he quipped. "We have decided to be free, and we are going to be free and independent, with you or without you."

Protest rally called off

The European Union said it took note of the Maduro win but said Capriles's complaints should be examined by the government.

On Tuesday, Capriles called off a protest rally he had convened for Wednesday, saying he did not want more violence or to play to into the government's hands.

He asked Maduro to calm the situation in Venezuela, which has the world's largest proven oil reserves.

Maduro tweeted back to his rival about street demonstrations, saying he had information that right-wing groups were "arming" people disguised in the bright red colours of the Chavez movement, and that he had alerted the police.

"I call on the people to isolate fascists and violent people wherever they are," said Maduro. "Peace, peace," he added.



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