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Tensions up after polls close

Voters chose yesterday between the hand-picked successor who campaigned to carry on Hugo Chavez’s self-styled socialist revolution and an emboldened second-time challenger who warned that the late president’s regime has Venezuela on the road to ruin. Tensions rose soon after polls closed as both sides hinted at victory and suggested the other was plotting fraud. The results were not available before press time.

Jorge Rodriguez, the head of the campaign for acting President Nicolas Maduro, said he couldn’t reveal the results before electoral authorities did but strongly suggested Maduro had won by smiling and summoning supporters to the presidential palace, where Chavez’s supporters gathered to celebrate the late president’s past victories. And he warned that Maduro’s camp would not allow the will of the people to be subverted.

Opposition challenger Henrique Capriles and his campaign aides immediately lashed out at Rodriguez’s comments.

Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, a Capriles campaign coordinator, suggested the government was trying to steal the election.

“They know perfectly well what happened and so do we,” he said at a hastily called news conference. “They are misleading their people and are trying to mislead the people of this country.”

Maduro, the 50-year-old longtime foreign minister to Chavez, pinned his hopes on the immense loyalty for his former boss among millions of poor beneficiaries of government largesse and the powerful state apparatus that Chavez skillfully consolidated.

Capriles’s main campaign weapon was to simply emphasize “the incompetence of the state,” as he put it to reporters Saturday night.

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