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, blaming the opposition for deadly post-election violence as he deflected calls for a recount.

"We are going to take the truth about Venezuela" to the meeting, Maduro said in a nationally broadcast speech before leaving.

Regional leaders gathered in Lima for a special session of the Union of South American Nations, or UNASUR, to discuss the political crisis in Venezuela, where opposition candidate Henrique Capriles has demanded a recount of the returns from last Sunday's election.

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

Maduro countered that there was no opposition in Venezuela.

"In Venezuela, what there is is a permanent conspiracy, abetted from the United States," he said.

Foreign Minister Elias Jaua announced on his Twitter account that 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.

Venezuelan fighter jets, including Russian-made Sukhoi Su-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 that 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 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."

In Washington, US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed hope that Venezuela would keep an "open door" whatever happens, but said an audit of the vote would help provide confidence that Maduro's victory "has been fairly arrived at."

The Carter Center urged all sides to avoid aggressive rhetoric and said "an expeditious and full response from the CNE (National Election Council), should help to lower the tensions generated by the April 14 election results."

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, has 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.

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 told NTN24, in an interview 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."