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Despite protests, Maduro installed in Venezuela

| Friday, April 19, 2013, 9:03 p.m.

CARACAS — Nicolas Maduro, the handpicked successor of the late President Hugo Chavez, was sworn in to Venezuela's highest office on Friday despite refusal by a newly confident opposition to accept defeat in a hotly contested election.

Flanked by huge portraits of Chavez, “our eternal commander,” and Simon Bolivar, legendary liberator of Latin America, Maduro held a miniature copy of the Venezuelan constitution during a ceremony with numerous heads of state in attendance.

He swore allegiance to “God, Jesus Christ the Redeemer, the Venezuelan people and the memory of Hugo Chavez.” One of the late president's daughters bestowed Maduro with the presidential sash in national colors of red, blue and yellow.

Perhaps signaling the deep and sometimes violent divisions in this oil-rich country, Maduro began his inaugural speech with a promise to extend a hand to all Venezuelans to build an “inclusive nation” of peace and dialogue. The comments that followed, however, were anything but conciliatory, and he revived vague accusations that his opponents were plotting a coup.

Opposition members of Venezuela's Congress boycotted the ceremony.

A few minutes into Maduro's inaugural speech, a man in a red jacket charged toward the podium, apparently attempting to address the new president, before he was tackled by bodyguards and hustled away. Shaken, Maduro scolded his security detail. “I could have gotten shot up here!”

Outside the legislative palace where the inauguration took place, thousands of government supporters dressed in red and waving banners filled the streets. Later, they surged around a military parade where Chavez's image and recorded voice — were again prominent.

On the eve of the inauguration, the pro-government National Electoral Council surprised observers and agreed to opposition demands to review Sunday's controversial vote. The process will take 30 days, crucial time in which Maduro could cement his grip on power.

Still, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who lost to Maduro by less than 2 percentage points, according to official returns, said he was confident the review would prove that he won.

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