Home >news >world >Nicolas Maduro looks for South American backing in Venezuela dispute

Lima: Venezuelan President-elect Nicolas Maduro was expected to get a collective show of support from South American leaders meeting in Lima, but also face calls to defuse tensions with his opponents over the disputed vote.

The last-minute meeting of the regional group Unasur was being held in Peru a day before Maduro is to be sworn in on Friday.

Protests erupted in Venezuela after Maduro won Sunday’s election by about 2 percentage points, and the government says eight people have been killed in opposition-led protests.

Responding to demands by his rival Henrique Capriles for a recount, Venezuela’s election authority said it would widen an audit of electronic votes in the interest of “preserving harmony and isolating violent sectors."

Maduro blamed the United States for casting doubt on the result. He was named by late President Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer in March, as his chosen successor.

“In Venezuela we don’t have an opposition. We have a permanent conspiracy cheered on by the United States," he said in a televised speech before boarding a plane to Lima. He did not speak to reporters upon arrival.

Fans and foes of Maduro banged pots and pans and waved Venezuelan flags in competing protests in Lima’s Plaza San Martin.

The governments of Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia and Argentina, among others, have already recognized Maduro’s victory.

But two of the more moderate countries—Peru and Brazil—are worried about growing polarization in Venezuela.

Diplomatic sources said regional heavyweight Brazil is looking to encourage Maduro to calm tensions with the opposition to help governance in the OPEC nation.

Peruvian lawmakers said their foreign minister told them President Ollanta Humala would propose Maduro enter a dialogue with the opposition and carry out an audit of the votes.

Leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales, who was a close ally of Chavez, said Thursday’s meeting would express Unasur’s support for Maduro and the legality of the Venezuelan election.

Morales said Washington had no right to question Maduro’s victory because US President George W. Bush was re-elected by a similarly narrow margin in 2004.

“This is clearly meddling," Morales said earlier in the day. “We condemn this and repudiate it. We won’t permit that Bolivia or Latin America be treated as the US government’s backyard."

US favours recount

US Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers on Wednesday he favoured a recount because of possible voting irregularities. Washington has not recognized the result.

The European Union has suggested Venezuelan authorities consider an audit of the vote.

Maduro’s supporters have defended the legitimacy of his win with repeated references to the 2000 US election dispute, when the US Supreme Court halted a recount in Florida and Bush was declared the winner in the state by just 537 votes.

Peruvian Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, who was a fierce critic of Chavez, urged a recount overseen by international observers to “stop the authoritarian drift that seems to be underway."

Peru holds the rotating presidency of Unasur and the group’s election monitors have said Maduro’s win was legitimate.

Most of the leaders, including Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, will head to Venezuela for the swearing-in ceremony after the meeting in Lima.

In a move that could help calm tensions, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) said it would audit the remaining 46% of electronic votes that remain unchecked since an audit of more than half was done on voting day.

Capriles, the opposition candidate, says his team’s figures show he won. He immediately accepted the CNE’s decision, even though it falls short of the manual recount that he had wanted, and said he believed the truth would come out.

“We have identified where the problems are. With this, we’re where we want to be," he told a news conference in Caracas. He also called on the government to stop “persecuting" his supporters.

The CNE said it will announce the date for the start of the wider audit next week. Maduro’s allies had argued that a recount was unnecessary because the electoral council had already carried out a partial audit.

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