Chavez wins re-election in Venezuela

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CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez won re-election on Sunday, defeating challenger Henrique Capriles, Venezuela's electoral council said.

With most votes counted, Mr. Chavez had more than 54 percent of the vote, and Mr. Capriles had 45 percent, National Electoral Council president Tibisay Lucena said. She said 81 percent of the nearly 19 million registered voters cast ballots.

It was Mr. Chavez's third re-election victory in nearly 14 years in office. The victory gives him another six-year term to cement his legacy and press more forcefully for a transition to socialism in the country with the world's largest proven oil reserves.

Fireworks exploded in downtown Caracas, and Mr. Chavez's supporters celebrated waving flags and jumping for joy outside the presidential palace.

Mr. Chavez won more than 7.4 million votes, beating Mr. Capriles by more than 1.2 million votes, Ms. Lucena said.

Tensions rose in the bitterly divided country while an undetermined number of voting stations remained open after the official 6 p.m. closing time, with not a single result announced nearly three hours later.

Mr. Chavez, a socialist, called on Venezuelans to await results patiently, speaking briefly Sunday night by phone during a news conference held by his campaign chief.

Ms. Lucena had said earlier that any stations where voters had not cast ballots would remain open. Meanwhile, bands of red-shirted pro-Chavez motorcyclists, honking horns, roved central Caracas ensuring that such stations stayed open.

While not accusing the government of an intentional delay, Mr. Capriles complained via Twitter that most voting stations lacked lines and that the government should get on with the vote-counting.

Capriles spokesman Armando Briquet demanded that all motorcycle traffic be banned. In the past, gangs of red-shirted motorcyclists chanting pro-Chavez slogans have intimidated people.

Mr. Chavez's campaign manager, Jorge Rodriguez, told reporters there were no such plans. "This country has freedom of circulation," he said at a news conference.

Mr. Capriles has united the opposition in a contest between two sides that distrust each other so deeply that some expressed concerns whether a close election result would be respected.

With his victory, Mr. Chavez gets a free hand to push for an even bigger state role in the economy, further limit dissent and continue to befriend rivals of the United States.

Just as polls closed, one of several dozen young red-shirted Chavistas on motorcycles said they were ready to begin celebrating.

One pro-Chavez voter, private bodyguard Carlos Julio Silva, said that whatever his faults, Mr. Chavez deserves to win for spreading the nation's oil wealth to the poor with free medical care, public housing and other government largess.

"There is corruption, there's plenty of bureaucracy, but the people have never had a leader who cared about this country," Mr. Silva said after voting for Mr. Chavez at a school in the Caracas slum of Petare.

Mr. Chavez's critics said the president has inflamed divisions by labeling his opponents "fascists," "Yankees" and "neo-Nazis," while his loyalists alleged that Mr. Capriles would halt generous government programs that assist the poor.

Mr. Chavez has presided over an oil boom and has spent billions of dollars on social programs ranging from cash benefits for single mothers to free education.

But he has suffered declining support due to one of the world's highest murder rates, 18 percent inflation, a deteriorating electrical grid and a bloated government accused of endemic corruption and mismanagement.

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