Venezuelan presidential race heats up

Challenger Henrique Capriles mocks President Hugo Chavez's campaign pledges, as thousands march in support of incumbent.

    Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles has mocked President Hugo Chavez's grandiose presidential campaign pledges, even as thousands of Chavez supporters thronged the streets of the capital Caracas.

    Capriles, a 40-year-old state governor, said the socialist leader was more interested in promoting his self-styled revolution around the globe than in addressing local issues such as power cuts, unemployment and high crime rates.

    Speaking on Saturday at a presidential campaign rally in southern Bolivar state, Capriles brandished the proposals by Chavez's campaign in a leaflet bearing the slogan "The Candidate of the Fatherland".

    "I invite you all to read this. This is what the government is interested in: ... 'guarantee world peace, preserve the life of the planet and save the human species,'" he said to laughs and jeers from the crowd.

    "They want to take this revolution, this political project, to other countries, and use our resources to finance it. ... I don't see anything about solving the problems with electricity, the problems with water, with public services."

    Chavez, who has helped to support leftist governments in Latin America and elsewhere, is seeking a fresh six-year term in a close race ahead of the October 7 presidential election.

    The 58-year-old, who has undergone cancer surgery three times since June 2011, remains very popular with many in the country's poor majority thanks to heavy state spending on social development projects, as well as his own humble roots.

    For the first time, however, he is facing a particularly energetic candidate in Capriles, who is backed by a united opposition coalition that has waged a tireless campaign, criss-crossing Venezuela for months.

    'Social missions' stressed

    In the capital Caracas on Saturday, thousands of Chavez supporters took to the streets, stressing his social programmes as the main reason behind their support.

    Throngs of marchers, decked out in the ruling party's signature red-coloured clothing, walked through downtown Caracas toward Plaza O'Leary, chanting boisterously: "Hi Ho. Chavez is not going to go."

    "We are here defending the [social] missions, which are the most humble thing, the most human thing, President Chavez's love," shouted one unnamed youth on VTV state television, which broadcast the event in full.

    The country is highly polarised between the two camps and earlier this month the Carter Center, a human rights organisation founded by former US president Jimmy Carter, urged the two candidates to ease tensions so as to avert post-election violence.

    Chavez himself was not at the event, but he reached out to supporters via Twitter, saying thanks "for so much love ... Bravo for the [social] mission".

    The president is currently leading the country's best-known opinion polls, but the results of said surveys are often controversial. Both sides have discounted unfavourable polls and insist that their candidate is ahead.

    Late on Friday, Chavez said the opposition planned to cry fraud and would try to destabilise the country - whatever the result of the vote.

    "They are getting ready to cry fraud and reject the people's triumph. I advise them not to dare," he told a rally in the western mountain city of Merida. "I urge the rational, serious, democratic members of the right to take control."

    The campaign has so far been more peaceful than some Venezuelans had feared, but there remains the risk of a more serious confrontation - possibly over a count contested by either side.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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