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Chavez's heir ekes out victory in Venezuela

| Monday, April 15, 2013, 7:51 p.m.

CARACAS — Venezuela's government on Monday defended a presidential election that authorities said gave interim President Nicolas Maduro a six-year term, backtracking on a pledge he had made to permit an audit of ballots demanded by the opposition following the razor-thin victory.

Henrique Capriles, who had challenged Maduro in a Sunday election six weeks after President Hugo Chavez's death to decide who would rule this oil-rich country, insisted that he had won the vote and called for a hand count of all the paper ballots.

Maduro, though, was proclaimed the winner at the National Electoral Council, which certified the victory in a ceremony broadcast on national television, paving the way for his inauguration on Friday.

The official count indicates he won 50.7 percent of votes to Capriles' 49.1 percent.

“There is no doubt here about who won the election,” Elias Jaua, the foreign minister and a former vice president, said in a speech in which he defended the win and characterized the country's electoral system as the best in the world. “Venezuelans, let's feel proud of yesterday's vote.”

Soon after Maduro's victory was announced late Sunday night, Vicente Diaz, one of the rectors of the electoral council, called for an audit of the vote.

But the electoral council — which is made up of five members, four of them allies of the government — made clear that it would not support a recount.

“The Venezuelan electoral system worked perfectly,” said Tibisay Lucena, president of the council. “Venezuela is the country in the Americas with the most lively and vibrant democracy.”

Capriles declined to concede and cited 3,200 irregularities on the day of the vote, as well as the use of Venezuela's well-worn electoral machine to get the vote out for Maduro.

He said his campaign had asked electoral authorities not to proclaim Maduro the winner until the hand count of the ballots could take place. Capriles, 40, a governor and lawyer, said that the opposition's own estimates of the vote showed he had secured narrow victory over Maduro.

“Here the fight is not against the people,” he said. “It's a fight of the people against an illegitimate government.”

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