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Venezuela still tense after vote, deadly demos

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The transition to life in Venezuela without Hugo Chavez remained fractious and volatile Wednesday, after a disputed weekend presidential election won by his political heir sparked deadly protests.

Supporters of the late Chavez and the socialist-minded, oil-funded social programs he championed planned a rally under the nose of opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the loser of Sunday's vote, with a gathering outside his residence in northern Miranda state.

Both sides have accused the other of stoking violence after the special election in oil-rich Venezuela. Seven people died on Monday, mainly in big cities, where Capriles did well.

But he lost to ruling party candidate Nicolas Maduro by just under two percentage points, and wants a full recount, alleging irregularities.

The election board says no, and Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver who worked his way up in politics and now has to prove he is more than a Chavez lackey, is to be sworn in Friday to complete the late leader's term, which began January 10.

In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry said the US government -- long the target of Chavez's ire -- is not yet ready to recognize Maduro, telling lawmakers: "We think there ought to be a recount."

And the White House called on the government to protect the rights of free speech and assembly, and warned against more post-election violence.

Spokesman Jay Carney said the United States urges everyone to refrain from violence and other measures that could raise tensions at this difficult moment."

Overnight in Venezuela, opposition people banged pots and pans -- a typical protest in Latin America -- and pro-government ones set off firecrackers. But there was nothing like Monday's violence, which also left more than 60 hurt.

Chavez, a bombastic and garrulous figure who dominated life in his country and the Latin American left, irritating the United States along the way by aligning Venezuela with countries like Iran, Syria and Cuba, died of cancer last month.

On Tuesday, Capriles called off a protest rally he had convened for Wednesday, saying he did not want more violence or to play to into the government's hands, and said he was open to dialogue.

He also warned that he had a close eye on Wednesday's Chavista demo in Los Teques, where he lives.

"If anything happens to me at the official residence in Los Teques, I hold Nicolas Maduro responsible," Capriles tweeted.

He called Tuesday on Maduro for dialogue to calm down this country with the world's largest proven oil reserves, but the latter has not publicly addressed the offer.

Maduro did tweet right back to his opponent about street demos, saying he had information to the effect that right-wing groups were "arming" people disguised in the bright red colors of the Chavez movement, and that he had alerted the police.

"I call on the people to isolate fascists and violent people wherever they are," said Maduro. "Peace, peace," he added.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130417/venezuela-still-tense-after-vote-deadly-demos-0