President-elect Nicolas Maduro was set to be inaugurated in Venezuela Friday, even as election officials moved to defuse a political crisis by yielding to demands for an audit of the results in Sunday's bitterly contested elections.
The last minute development came after Maduro flew to a South American summit in Peru Thursday, where he received international support for his new government hours before he was to be sworn in to succeed the late Hugo Chavez who died of cancer March 5.
Presidents from across the region, who convened for a special session on the political impasse in the oil-rich OPEC nation, released a statement early Friday saying it "congratulated President Nicolas Maduro for ... his election as president."
The group in Lima "urges all sectors involved in the electoral process to respect the official results of the presidential election."
Henrique Capriles, the opposition candidate who had demanded a full recount after losing to Maduro by a 1.8 percent margin. He accepted the decision announced by the National Election Council's president, Tibisay Lucena.
Lucena insisted that the expanded audit was not a recount, but would cover all ballot boxes not audited on election day by reviewing a sample two-thirds of them over the next 30 days.
Capriles congratulated his followers on their "struggle for the truth."
"We believe that in these 12,000 boxes are the problems, we can perfectly well show the country the truth," he said.
While the audit could in theory raise problems once completed, it will not stand in the way of Maduro's inauguration. Lucena said Venezuelan law requires a winner to be proclaimed before an election can be impugned.
Angry name-calling, accusations and violent protests that claimed the lives of eight people early in the week followed Maduro's narrow 50.8 to 49 percent margin election victory.
"In Venezuela, what there is is a permanent conspiracy, abetted from the United States," Maduro said Thursday, repeating claims that the government had "defeated" an attempted coup in its initial stages.
In Caracas, meanwhile, a din of pots being banged by Capriles supporters competed with fireworks launched from the rooftops of government buildings by Maduro's backers for a third consecutive night.
But by Thursday, Maduro appeared to have regained control of the situation.
Preparations were underway to swear him in with pomp and circumstance on Friday to complete Chavez's six-year term, which was cut short by his death from cancer after 14 years in power.
Venezuelan fighter jets, including Russian-made Sukhoi Su-35s, streaked across Caracas in an apparent rehearsal for Friday's swearing-in ceremonies, while helicopters circled below them over the mountain-rimmed city.
Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver who rose through the political ranks under Chavez, was to take the oath of office at the National Assembly before an audience of dignitaries, including a number of Latin American presidents who had been with him in Lima.
Presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Cristina Kirchner of Argentina, Jose Mujica of Uruguay and Evo Morales of Bolivia have confirmed their attendance.
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," was left with an uncertain mandate after the close vote.
Nearly all Latin American countries have recognized Maduro's election but the United States, the frequent target of his and Chavez's scorn, has reserved judgement.
In Washington, US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed hope Thursday 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 Electoral Council), should help to lower the tensions generated by the April 14 election results."
Maduro had the backing of the Supreme Court, which said it was impossible to conduct a manual recount as the opposition has demanded.
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."