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Winner certified in Venezuela amid protests

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela's government-friendly electoral council quickly certified the razor-thin presidential victory of Hugo Chavez's handpicked successor Monday, apparently ignoring opposition demands for a recount as antigovernment protests broke out in the bitterly polarized nation.

People stood on their balconies in Caracas apartment buildings banging pots and pans in protest as the electoral council's president proclaimed Nicolas Maduro president for the next six years.

Across town, thousands of students clashed with National Guard troops who fired tear gas and plastic bullets to turn the protesters back from marching on the city center. Students threw stones and pieces of concrete.

The city was otherwise peaceful, although protests were reported in provincial cities.

Maduro was elected Sunday by a margin of 50.8 percent to 49 percent over challenger Henrique Capriles — a difference of just 262,000 votes out of 14.9 million cast, according to an updated official count released Monday.

Sworn in as acting president after Chavez's death on March 5 from cancer, Maduro squandered a double-digit advantage in opinion polls in two weeks as Capriles highlighted what he called the ruling Chavistas' abysmal management of the oil-rich country's economy and infrastructure, citing myriad woes including food and medicine shortages, power outages and rampant crime.

By contrast, Chavez had defeated Capriles by a nearly 11-point margin in October.

Until every vote is counted, Venezuela has an "illegitimate president," Capriles tweeted.

One of the five members of the National Electoral Council, independent Vicente Diaz, also backed a full recount, as did the United States and the Organization of American States.

But the electoral council president, Tibisay Lucena, said in announcing the outcome Sunday that it was "irreversible." At the proclamation ceremony Monday, she called Venezuela "a champion of democracy" and defended its electronic vote system as bulletproof.

Winner certified in Venezuela amid protests 04/15/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 12:19am]
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