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Options narrow for Venezuelan opposition when supreme court judge declares no recount will be ordered

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By The Associated Press
Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:21 p.m.
 

CARACAS — Venezuela's opposition watched its options dwindle on Wednesday when the head of the supreme court said there could be no recount of the razor-thin presidential election victory by Hugo Chavez's heir, leaving many government foes feeling the only chance at power is to wait for the ruling socialists to stumble.

Opposition activists and independent observers called the judge's declaration blatant and legally unfounded favoritism from a purportedly independent body that is packed with confederates of President-elect Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's hand-picked successor.

The recount issue has not been put before the court, but its president, Luisa Morales, appeared on television news at midday to declare that the opposition's call for an examination of each and every paper vote receipt had “angered many Venezuelans.”

It was an unsubtle reminder that virtually every level of power in Venezuela sits in the hands of a ruling party unafraid to use almost all means at its disposal to marginalize its opponents.

“In Venezuela, the system is absolutely automatic, in such a way that manual recounts don't exist,” Morales said.

Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles kept silent, shying away from what experts called his only remaining option: public protest.

By late afternoon, the normally vociferous state governor had simply called on Twitter for his followers to remain calm and resist provocations to violence from the government.

A day earlier, Capriles canceled a march in the capital, saying the government planned to react with violence.

That decision was made after Maduro urged his supporters to take to the streets on Wednesday.

With the Capriles march called off, only a small crowd of Chavistas rallied outside the electoral council's offices.

Maduro hectored the opposition during a 45-minute live appearance on state television, calling his opponents “fascists” who are plotting to overthrow the government.

“Superman could not win an election here,” Diego Arria, a former U.N. ambassador and conservative member of the opposition coalition, said resignedly.

“We're left with the option of calling the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, but that won't have any impact here,” Arria said. “If the population stands down, we lose.”

Political scientist Jorge Restrepo of the CERAC think tank in Bogota said Maduro's problem isn't institutional power but “the fragility that will come from the economic side.”

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