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Embattled Venezuelan President Chavez Wins Referendum - 2004-08-16


The Venezuelan Electoral Council has announced that President Hugo Chavez has won the special recall election through which opponents hoped to unseat him. With 94 percent of the vote counted, more than 58 percent of voters opposed the recall.

Leading his supporters in a partisan folk song, President Chavez appeared at four-thirty in the morning on a balcony at the Miraflores presidential palace. He hailed the triumph of the "no" vote in the recall referendum as a victory for Venezuela.

In his remarks, Mr. Chavez also included those who had voted for the recall.

He says he respects the right of opponents to think differently and that he hopes those who voted for the recall will join in celebrating the election as a great victory for the nation. He also calls on his opponents to celebrate the election as a rejection of violence and a defeat for the idea of changing government through coup d' etat.

Mr. Chavez came to prominence leading a coup attempt in 1992 and survived a coup against his own government in April 2002.

In an impromptu speech that lasted around an hour, Mr. Chavez went on to chide the Bush administration in Washington, saying that his referendum victory had fallen like a ball in the middle of the White House. He said he hoped the world's greatest power would accept the results and show respect for his government and the people of Venezuela.

Mr. Chavez has been at odds with the United States for several years because of his close association with the communist leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro, and his rejection of U.S. political and economic policies in Latin America.

The Chavez victory is likely to calm some nerves in the international petroleum market. Many traders feared an opposition win would lead to more political turmoil and possible disruption of Venezuela's vital oil sector. Venezuela is the fifth-largest world oil producer and supplies about 15 percent of the fuel used in the United States.

Some opposition leaders are rejecting the outcome of the election, claiming fraud, but the election was observed by representatives of the Organization of American States and by a team led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. They found no fault with the process as they observed it on Sunday.

The referendum resulted from two years of efforts by opposition groups to oust Mr. Chavez, whom they accuse of mishandling the nation's finances and trying to impose a Cuba-style socialist system in Venezuela.

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