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US Officials Say Charges of Fraud in Venezuelan Recall Vote Should Be Investigated - 2004-08-17


Here in Washington, U.S. officials say there was no evident pattern of fraud in voting that has apparently allowed Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to remain in office. But they say that in the interest of transparency, opposition charges of irregularities in the recall election should be fully investigated.

The State Department says the United States will withhold judgment on the outcome of the recall vote until the final official results are posted.

However, officials here say that with tallies by international observers in close parallel with government figures showing a Chavez victory, there is no reason to think that the final outcome will be any different.

Preliminary results from Venezuela's National Electoral Council showed Mr. Chavez winning the referendum with 58% of the vote.

In Caracas, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said tallies by observers from his Atlanta-based Carter Center and the Organization of American States coincided with the council's posted results.

But Chavez opponents said Sunday's vote had been marred by widespread fraud and irregularities and claimed the recall had succeeded by a wide margin.

In comments to reporters here, State Department spokesman Thomas Casey said Venezuelan authorities should cooperate with the international observers in addressing the concerns of the opposition.

He said, "We note the OAS and Carter Center announcement that their 'quick count' was consistent with the National Electoral Council's preliminary results. We also note their offer to work with the opposition to conduct a full audit of the results, and to examine any concerns that have arisen. We encourage the National Electoral Council to allow a transparent audit to address any concerns, and to assure Venezuelan citizens that the referendum was free and fair.

Mr. Casey commended the OAS and the Carter Center for their contributions to the referendum process.

He said the United States and its international partners will continue to "stand firmly" with the Venezuelans, as they seek to strengthen democracy and promote national reconciliation.

The United States has had a difficult relationship with Mr. Chavez, who has close ties with Cuban President Fidel Castro and has been a strong critic of U.S. policy in Iraq and elsewhere.

Mr. Chavez accused the United States of financing the recall movement against him, and despite U.S. denials has said the Bush administration supported a military revolt that briefly unseated him in 2002.

Officials here had complained of incidents of harassment and intimidation of Chavez opponents in the controversy-ridden petition process that led to the recall vote.

But Spokesman Casey said the recall vote itself had been relatively calm with only a few incidents of trouble.

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