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Opposition Takes to the Streets to Demand Recount in Venezuela

CARACAS, Apr 16 2013 (IPS) - Noisy pot-banging protests broke out in Venezuela’s cities to demand a recount of the votes from Sunday’s presidential elections, which leftwing candidate Nicolás Maduro won. Several people have been killed in violent incidents.

In upscale neighbourhoods in the main cities, residents took to the streets Monday night in favour of opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who took 48.97 percent of the vote compared to Maduro’s 50.75 percent.

But pots were also banged in poor neighbourhoods and small towns, traditional strongholds of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) of late president Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), who died of cancer on Mar. 5.

Demonstrations in several cities, in some of which the protesters numbered in the thousands, ended in clashes with the security forces. Seven people were killed and 61 injured, according to Attorney General Luisa Ortega.

The interior minister, General Néstor Reverol, said two PSUV supporters were shot by motorists who were apparently opposition sympathisers.

Protests were also held Tuesday in a dozen cities in the interior, in front of the offices of the National Electoral Council (CNE), which were heavily guarded by the military National Guard.

“We’re tired of being told lies,” 41-year-old schoolteacher Olga Hernández, beating an old pan in the working-class district of El Valle on the southwest side of Caracas, told IPS. “If the government says it won, why don’t they hold a vote-by-vote recount?”

The pot banging protests, which have been common in Venezuela since 1992, became especially popular during the acute political crisis of 2002-2004, when the opposition attempted to oust Chávez by means of street protests, business shut-downs and a frustrated coup d’etat.

The protests that broke out Monday were in response to Capriles’ call for a recount. But
Attorney General Ortega said the candidate had not filed any formal request, and was “inciting the citizens to take to the streets on the basis of arguments that he should set forth to the CNE.” She said his calls for protests were “destabilising acts.”

She also pointed out that in many countries, presidential elections have been won with a 0.5 percent difference.

On Monday, the CNE proclaimed Maduro the winner with 7,563,747 votes, against 7,298,491 for Capriles, after nearly 100 percent of the ballots had been counted, with the exception of 60,000 cast by Venezuelans living abroad.

Voters in Venezuela use electronic machines that generate a voter-verified paper trail. The voter deposits the paper ballot in a ballot box, and random audits can be carried out.

Based on 3,200 irregularities that Capriles claims were documented, the opposition candidate demanded a total recount instead of the random audits.

On Sunday night, Maduro said he would accept a vote-by-vote recount. But on Monday, the CNE declared him president-elect without responding to the demand. PSUV leaders said the electoral authorities had not responded because no formal request had been filed.

“Everyone knows who is responsible for this violence,” said Maduro, alluding to Capriles. “He will have to answer for the dead that we are mourning. They want to create outbreaks of violence around the country, like in Syria or Libya. But we call on people to reject hatred; we are calling for peace.”

Capriles, meanwhile, said “the illegitimate (candidate Maduro) ordered all this violence to avoid a recount. They are responsible.”

He insisted that “we called for peaceful protests, we are enemies of violence. No to violence!”

A march to CNE headquarters called by the opposition for Wednesday will not be allowed, Maduro said.
“You people aren’t going to go to the centre of Caracas to fill it up with death and blood. I won’t allow it. I am going to take a firm stance against fascism and intolerance. If they want to overthrow me, they can come for me. Here I am, with the people and with the armed forces,” he said.

“That march won’t enter Caracas. They are trying to get people killed, to massacre their own people, and then look for an active military officer. I won’t allow it, period,” said Maduro.

The president-elect confirmed reports that some military officers who had reportedly contacted opposition leaders had been detained as part of investigations.

With respect to coverage of the events, he told Venevisión and Televen, the leading TV stations, “Define who you are with, the fatherland, peace and the people, or once again on the side of fascism.”

Meanwhile, Maduro ordered a national broadcast Tuesday of official ceremonies in a health centre and with oil industry workers, which kept the leaders of the opposition from airing their own messages on TV and the radio.

“We are calling for serenity, because what would happen if we marched on your (opposition leaders’) houses? Nothing would be left,” Maduro said.

He was referring to the throngs of pot-banging protesters who gathered outside the homes of the president of the CNE, Tibisay Lucena, and governing party leader William Izarra, in Caracas.

Besieging these homes “is inappropriate behaviour and should not be happening,” said human rights activist Liliana Ortega. “Privacy must be respected.”

The head of the opposition campaign, Henri Falcón, met with Catholic Church bishops Tuesday to ask them to mediate in the crisis.

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