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Venezuelans go to the polls
Hugo Chavez seeks another six-year term in the country's presidential elections.
Last Modified: 03 Dec 2006 17:17 GMT
Chavez is favourite to win re-election to
Venezuela's presidency

Venezuelans are voting in the country's presidential elections, with Hugo Chavez, the current president, seeking re-election.

 
Most polls show Chavez, at odds with Washington over his ties to Cuba and Iran, with a solid lead over rival Manuel Rosales, a state governor who has attacked the incumbent on crime and unemployment.

Many Venezuelans support Chavez for spending oil income on social programmes, while critics accuse him of seeking to copy the communism of his ally, Fidel Castro, the Cuban president.

Chavez opponent

 

Rosales, governor of the western oil state of Zulia, has attacked Chavez's record on tackling high crime and unemployment. He has promised to stem policy which he says is edging Venezuela towards authoritarian rule.

 

"The future of Venezuela is at stake," Rosales told supporters shouting "President, President" as he cast his ballot in his home state.

 

"This is one of the most important elections in the history of our country," he said.

 

He appealed to the electoral authorities to mend some voting machines printing out blank ballots when voters selected "Rosales". Chavez has said that Rosales will look for an excuse to cry fraud.

 
Election authorities have dismissed worries over vote-tampering, and the opposition-aligned El Universal newspaper reported that Sunday's election had more safeguards than a 2004 recall referendum, which critics said was rigged in favour of Chavez.
 

"There is no possibility of any fraud in the election," electoral council official Vicente Diaz told the El Universal newspaper in an interview published on Saturday.

 

Divided country

 

Venezuela is sharply polarised. Many poor people applaud Chavez's spending of oil income on health and education while some upper- and middle-class voters say he is a fledgling dictator determined to follow Castro.

 

"There is no possibility of any fraud in the election"

Vicente Diaz, electoral council official

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The most recent opinion survey, commissioned by the state oil company with a US pollster, showed Chavez with a 19-point lead over Rosales.

 

Rosales has mustered the opposition's most serious challenge to Chavez in years with populist promises to redistribute Venezuela's oil wealth and roll back policies he says are edging the country towards Cuban-style communism.

 

A Chavez victory would shore up his campaign to forge a regional alliance of leftist leaders to counter Washington's influence in Latin America. He applauded this week's victory by leftist Rafael Correa in Ecuador's presidential run-off.

   

A former paratrooper who led a botched coup six years before his 1998 election, Chavez says he is inspired by South American liberation hero Simon Bolivar to free Latin America from US-backed "imperialist" policies.

Source:
Agencies
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