US calls on Venezuela to protect right to protest

The White House on Wednesday urged the Venezuelan government to protect the rights of free speech and protest but warned against violence after a disputed election sparked deadly demonstrations.

"We call on the Venezuelan government to respect the rights of Venezuelan citizens to peaceful assembly and free speech," said White House spokesman Jay Carney in a statement.

"We also urge everyone to refrain from violence and other measures that could raise tensions at this difficult moment," he added.

"The United States notes the acceptance by both candidates for an audit of the ballots and supports calls for a credible and transparent process to reassure the Venezuelan people regarding the results.

"Such a process would contribute to political dialogue and help advance the country's democracy."

Protests over the disputed weekend presidential election to succeed the late Hugo Chavez have so far left seven people dead and dozens injured.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles calls for a recount -- have been backed by the United States and the Organization of American States.

The National Electoral Board however has declared acting President Nicolas Maduro as the winner.