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Chavez Candidates Sweep Races

Associated Press
Monday, November 1, 2004; Page A14

CARACAS, Venezuela, Nov. 1 -- Candidates backed by President Hugo Chavez swept all but two of 23 governorships in Sunday's regional elections, but opposition incumbents in two key states were reelected, according to preliminary results announced by elections authorities.

Jorge Rodriguez, a National Elections Council director, said early Monday that an initial vote count showed that pro-government candidates captured 21 governorships, and that Juan Barreto, a Chavez-endorsed candidate, won mayoral race in Caracas, the capital.

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Staunch government foes, including incumbent Gov. Manuel Rosales of oil-rich Zulia state, and Morel Rodriguez, an opposition candidate for governor in Nueva Esparta state, popularly known as Margarita Island, won.

Under regulations set by the elections council, only one ballot box at each center would be opened in the presence of election officials, military officers and opposition and government witnesses. Many Chavez opponents didn't trust the voting machines, which were used in the Aug. 15 recall that Chavez survived. They insist he resorted to fraud to win the referendum on his rule.

More than 120,000 troops and police were in charge of safeguarding voting centers and preventing clashes between political rivals, but no major incidences of violence were reported by authorities.

Opposition leaders had viewed Sunday's vote as an opportunity to end a string of debilitating defeats, including the defeat two months ago of a highly charged presidential recall referendum.

Turnout at voting centers in upscale Caracas districts was steady, but far short of that during the recall vote. Lines in poor districts, where support for Chavez is strongest, appeared to be longer than other areas.

The Organization of American States and the Atlanta-based Carter Center, which monitored the recall and endorsed the results of the vote, were not present for Sunday's elections, although more than 100 observers from other Latin American nations were present.

Chavez, who has questioned the legitimacy of President Bush's election four years ago, said he was pleased with the voting process.

"I hope [the U.S. government] follows the example of Venezuela's, which are transparent and clean," Chavez said after voting in Caracas.

Critics accuse Chavez of attempting to establish a socialist-orientated government and distancing Venezuela, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, from the United States, a traditional ally, while strengthening ties with President Fidel Castro of Cuba.


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