Venezuela's Maduro to Peru summit before swearing-in

Venezuela's President-elect Nicolas Maduro headed to a South American summit Thursday on the eve of his inauguration, seeking to denounce the opposition for deadly post-election protests.

Regional leaders were meeting in Peru later in the day in a special session of the Union of South American Nations to discuss the political crisis in Venezuela, where opposition candidate Henrique Capriles has demanded a recount of the returns from last Sunday's election.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua announced on his Twitter account he would represent Venezuela at the meeting, but Maduro later said he would travel to Lima himself to explain "how we defeated a coup d'etat."

"We will denounce the political assassinations that resulted from opposition political intolerance," Jaua said, referring to protests that authorities said have left eight people dead.

Capriles said in a Twitter message that he also was considering attending the meeting, adding that he had been in conversation with several leaders. "In democracy, votes are counted," he wrote.

Venezuelan fighter jets, including Russian-made Sukhoi-35s, meanwhile streaked across Caracas in an apparent rehearsal for Friday's swearing-in ceremonies, which were expected to draw fellow South American leaders.

Helicopters also circled over the mountain-rimmed city at a time when Maduro, Chavez's political heir, appeared to have regained control of the situation after the post-election violence, which also left more than 60 injured.

"We have just defeated a coup d'etat but they want to continue to try to sabotage the life of the country," Maduro charged Thursday on Twitter, accusing his rival of "sowing violence."

Caracas rang with the sounds of pots and pans banging for a second consecutive night Wednesday in frustration over the election results, but they were overlaid with explosions from rockets set off by Maduro's supporters in response.

Nearly all Latin American countries have recognized Maduro's election and several leaders were taking advantage of the summit to travel together to Caracas for his inauguration.

Presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Cristina Kirchner of Argentina, Jose Mujica of Uruguay and Evo Morales of Bolivia have confirmed their attendance.

Before the summit, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, who is on a European tour, sent a message of support to Maduro: "Free and democratic elections must be respected. UNASUR will not permit a coup d'etat."

Preparations were underway to swear Maduro in with pomp and circumstance on Friday to complete Chavez's six-year term, cut short by his death from cancer March 5 after 14 years in power.

Chavez has been as dominant a figure here in death as he had been in life, but Maduro, campaigning as the comandante's political "son," barely won Sunday's elections, 50.8 to 49 percent, leaving him with an uncertain mandate.

Capriles, claiming irregularities in the vote, on Wednesday submitted a formal request for a recount to the National Election Council, which certified Maduro as the winner the day after the snap elections.

Maduro has the backing of the Supreme Court, which said it was impossible to conduct a manual recount, as the opposition has demanded.

The United States, cast by Chavistas as Latin America's bete noire, has supported the demand for an "audit" of the vote, a position also supported by the European Union.

But the president-elect, taking up the "anti-imperialist" banner of his mentor, poured scorn on the United States, Venezuela's biggest oil customer, saying: "We don't care about your recognition."

Meanwhile, Capriles awaited an answer to his request from the election council.

"The whole world is in complete agreement that there should be an audit because this strengthens democracy," he said in an interview Wednesday night with NTN24, rebroadcast by Globovision television.

The Venezuelan judicial system not only has shown no willingness to take up his cause, but could act on threats to prosecute the opposition for the violence that occurred during opposition protests.

The authorities announced this week that they have detained 135 people and placed under investigation a group of military officers suspected of plotting with the "Caprilistas."