Venezuelan vote results endorsed

This comes as international observers endorsed the result of the vote, with former US president Jimmy Carter saying Mr Chavez won fairly, and the Organisation of American States saying it has not found any trace of fraud.

Mr Chavez gained the support of up to 58 percent of voters.

But his opponents organised street protests in the capital Caracas, in which a woman was killed and at least four others wounded, as Mr Chavez’s supporters fired on the crowd.

Angry protesters yelled “fraud” and “murderers” as they stood by a bloodied Venezuelan flag that marked the spot where Martiza Ron, 61 was gunned down.

Mr Chavez said those responsible for the killing had been identified and vowed they would be tracked down and punished whether or not they are his supporters.

At a news conference, he said he would claim “victory with humility”, acknowledging that 40 percent of Venezuelans opposed his leadership

“It’s never too late for us together to build a new era in Venezuela, because as of now we begin a new era of transformation,” he said.

He said he had invited opposition leaders to lunch, and the offer remains open despite their refusal.

Mr Chavez also called for national reconciliation and promised to respect those who voted against him.

However the United States declined to join in those backing Mr Chavez, who has been a thorn in the US’ side for a long time.

“We encourage the National Electoral Council to allow a transparent audit to address any concerns and assure Venezuelan citizens that the referendum was free and fair,” said State Department spokesman Tom Casey.

Venezuela is the world’s fifth-biggest oil producer and the result of the referendum was closely monitored by international financial markets.

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