Maduro declared president-elect in crisis-hit Venezuela

Venezuela's acting President Nicolas Maduro was proclaimed the winner of an election to succeed late leader Hugo Chavez here Monday triggering protests as the opposition demanded a recount.

One month after Chavez died, the National Electoral Council (CNE) handed the certified results to Maduro after he defeated opposition leader Henrique Capriles 50.75 percent to 48.97 percent -- a difference of 265,000 votes.

The final score was about 30,000 votes wider than initial results, but it was still the opposition's best score against "Chavismo" in 14 years that it has dominated the nation, which sits on the world's largest reserves.

"I am the son of Chavez," Maduro said. "I am the first Chavista president after Hugo Chavez Frias and I will fulfill his legacy to protect the poor, to protect our independence."

The 50-year-old former foreign minister, who has indicated that he would welcome a recount, accused the opposition of having a "coup mentality."

With the United States and the Organization of American States (OAS) backing his demand for a recount, Capriles called for protests if Maduro was proclaimed "illegitimate president."

But CNE president Tibisay Lucena said the opposition can use "the legal path" instead of "threats" if it wants to contest the result, citing the 2000 US election that was decided by the Supreme Court.

Capriles urged Venezuelans to bang their kitchen pots and pans -- a popular Latin American form of protest known as a "cacerolazo" -- to "let the world know our outrage, our anger."

The 40-year-old state governor also called on Venezuelans to peacefully protest in front of CNE offices on Tuesday to demand a recount.

As the CNE confirmed Maduro as president-elect, Capriles supporters honked their horns and banged pots outside their windows across town.

Another 1,500 people demonstrated in Plaza Altamira, chanting "We see it, we feel it, Capriles president!" while waving Venezuela's yellow, blue and red flag.

"President Capriles won. They just didn't count the vote like they should have," said Elis Carvallo, 33, with the Venezuelan colors painted on her face.

Outside the CNE, hundreds of Chavistas cheered and chanted "Chavez lives! The struggle goes on!" in a central Caracas square.

The OAS backed calls for a recount, while the White House said an audit would be an "important, prudent and necessary step."

"In our view, rushing to a decision in these circumstances would be inconsistent with the expectations of Venezuelans for a clear and democratic outcome," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Around the world, Chavez's closest allies -- from Cuba to Ecuador and Russia -- congratulated their friend's handpicked political heir, one month after the charismatic leader lost his battle to cancer aged 58.

Cuban leader Raul Castro said his ally's victory "shows the strength of the ideas and work of Comandante Hugo Chavez."

Riding a wave of grief over his mentor's death, Maduro had led opinion polls by double digits ahead of Sunday's vote, but Capriles tapped into deep discontent over rampant crime and economic weakness.

Both candidates pledged during the campaign to recognize the result.

But Capriles -- who accepted defeat when Chavez beat him by 11 points in October polls -- said he had a list of some 3,200 "incidents" that took place during the vote.

At a newspaper stand in the capital's business district of Chacao, known as a Capriles stronghold, Capriles supporters said they wanted a recount.

"We want a review of the vote so that we can move forward, so that we are clear whether we lost," said 56-year-old public accountant Oswaldo Gomez.

Under the constitution, a recall referendum can be called after the third year of a presidency if 20 percent of voters' signatures are gathered.

Across town, in Caracas' historic center, Maduro supporters said the opposition must accept defeat.

"The numbers don't lie. The little bourgeois should recognize the result given by the CNE," said Nahem Machado, a 41-year-old construction worker.

Ignacio Avalos, a sociology professor at Central University of Venezuela, said the nation was in a "very delicate situation."

"Such a thin difference in a country that is so extremely polarized is hard to deal with politically," Avalos said. "The big challenge, however this finishes, is how to become one country again, with its conflicts and contradictions."