|Venezuela's opposition coalition now aims to remove Chavez from power in the 2012 presidential race [AFP]
Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez has claimed victory in the country's legislative elections, in which the opposition bloc made big gains and denied the governing party a two-thirds majority.
Chavez declared on Monday, in his first news conference since the vote, that his Socialist party had won most of the votes with 98 seats in the 165-member National Assembly, compared with 65 for the opposition coalition.
He claimed his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) had won most of the votes - 5,422,040 - while the Unity Table (MUD), a broad coalition of opposition parties, won 5,320,175 votes in Sunday's elections.
He said another 520,000 votes won by the leftist Homeland For Everyone (PPT), which broke off from PSUV, could not be included in the opposition tally, as his opponents have done.
The electoral commission has only released figures for the seats, not votes.
According to the official vote count so far, PSUV won 95 seats, while the MUD won 63, and the PPT two.
Controversial new changes to electoral rules mean Chavez's party can have many more seats than its vote share would imply.
But the results fall far short of the 110 seats Chavez needs to continue to push his socialist programme through the legislature.
"As always they're lying, manipulating. The forces of the revolution won a very important victory on Sunday," he said.
Chavez promised an "acceleration" of his socialist policies, saying an opposition presence in parliament was no threat to his agenda.
"They won't be able to win a majority unless they raise both hands," he said.
Sights on presidency
Opposition parties boycotted the last election in 2005, giving Chavez complete control of parliament.
The bloc has now set its sights on ousting Chavez in the 2012 presidential election.
"It's been demonstrated that the country has an alternative, formed thanks to the convergence of very different people," Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, the spokesman for the opposition coalition, said early on Monday.
In more than a decade of tumultuous rule, Chavez has nationalised public utilities, key industries and media, and launched health clinics and subsidised food programmes for the poor.
He has also increased pressure on opposition groups and dissidents.
The opposition's campaign focused on issues like Venezuela's murder rate, one of the highest in the world, and record inflation.