Venezuela's presidential candidates have held their final rallies in the run-up to Sunday's election.

President Hugo Chavez held his final campaign rally in the capital Caracas on Thursday, appearing on the stage under heavy rain greeting his supporters in their thousands from all corners of Venezuela.

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He asked his supporters to be ready "to defend the people's victory", insisting he would win the elections once again.

Elsewhere, Chavez's main rival and opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, wrapped up his campaign with a final event addressing supporters in Barquisimeto, in the western state of Lara.

Thousands of supporters, perhaps as many as 10,000, packed the Venezuela avenue for Capriles' final address.

Capriles criticised Chavez's administration and listed several unfulfilled promises during his rule since he became president in 1998.

But he also tried to strike a conciliatory tone, saying he would govern for everybody regardless of their political affiliation, and called his supporters to "enjoy victory humbly".

Strongest contender

Capriles, a lawyer, has become the strongest contender that Chavez has faced in his nearly 14 years in office.

Some recent polls show Chavez with a lead of about 10 percentage points over Capriles, while others put the two candidates roughly even.

Venezuela elections

 Profile: Hugo Chavez
 Profile: Henrique Capriles 
 Candidates pledges
 Venezuela election graffiti

Chavez clearly still enjoys the loyalty of millions of supporters, but violent crime, 18-per cent inflation and accusations of government corruption and ineffectiveness have taken a political toll on his popularity.

The election will reveal how many remain loyal despite it all - and whether he still has his popular touch.

Chavez has called his supporters to rally around him and to give him another six years to achieve his social reform programme.

He finished treatment for cancer less than six months ago and has reassured supporters that he is cured and fit to serve out his term.

Nearly 19 million Venezuelans are registered to vote in a tightly contested race.

A recent survey by respected polling firm Datanalisis showed Capriles trailing Chavez by 10 points, but noted that he was narrowing the gap.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies