CARACAS, Venezuela, Aug. 16 -- President Hugo Chavez was declared the winner of a national recall referendum by a substantial margin on Monday, and said he had won a fresh mandate for the highly centralized, populist style of government that has stirred fierce opposition at home and irritated the Bush administration.
About 58 percent of the voters in the Sunday ballot said "no" to a recall of Chavez, while 42 percent said "yes," according to nearly complete returns from the national elections council. Officials said that at least 8.5 million of the country's 14 million registered voters participated in the referendum.
Venezuelans protest outside a hotel in Caracas. Members of the opposition alleged voter fraud and refused to accept President Hugo Chavez's victory.
(Dario Lopez-mills -- AP)
Chavez, Poor Man's Survivor: post.com's Jefferson Morley mines foreign press for views on the recall referendum vote.
_____Road to Recall_____
Timeline: Events in Venezuela that led to the recall referendum on President Hugo Chavez.
Video: Footage From Venezuela (The Associated Press, Aug 16, 2004)
Turnout Massive In Venezuela's Vote on Chavez (The Washington Post, Aug 16, 2004)
Chavez Upbeat Before Historic Vote to Oust Him (The Washington Post, Aug 13, 2004)
Building Loyalty and a Legacy (The Washington Post, Aug 12, 2004)
Discreet Charm of the Status Quo: In Venezuela, citizens are caught between the benefits and perils of both change and stability.
Leaders of the coalition against Chavez, who has governed the country since 1999, summoned followers to the streets to protest what they said was vote fraud. But former president Jimmy Carter and a team of international monitors said the voting appeared fair and accurate.
The recall ballot was the culmination of a two-year campaign by opponents -- who include many in the country's middle and upper classes -- to drive out Chavez, a populist whose support is based among Venezuela's poor. The opposition backed a coup and organized strikes, demonstrations and other protests before finally gathering the millions of petition signatures needed to force a recall vote. Chavez's government resisted the recall attempt for months before allowing it to go forward.
Isolated clashes between the president's supporters and opponents were reported following his victory. Four Chavez opponents were wounded by gunfire, according to news media reports.
Despite the violence, the referendum clearly strengthened Chavez, a charismatic populist who has proclaimed a "revolution of the poor" in this nation of 25 million, championing like-minded movements throughout Latin America and maintaining close ties with Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Chavez, a former army lieutenant colonel who led a failed coup in 1992, struck a conciliatory tone on Monday toward those who voted against him.
"We recognize the existence of the other," Chavez said, referring to the opposition in a speech at the presidential palace.
"You have our respect and our recognition," he added, seated in front of a Venezuelan flag and a portrait of Latin American independence leader Simon Bolivar.
But Chavez blasted opposition leaders who refused to recognize his victory. He said the substantial vote in his favor indicated support for his policies, which include increased anti-poverty spending, social and health programs for the disadvantaged, and solidarity with Latin American protest movements.
"A new stage has begun -- of deepening our programs," Chavez said, without providing details.
Chavez's victory also indicated a power shift away from the small, wealthy elite that dominated the country until economic crises in the 1980s and 1990s shattered the legitimacy of the traditional two-party system in one of Latin America's oldest democracies. Chavez has endeared himself to the country's downtrodden with his rough-hewn style and delivery of numerous social programs.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey did not mention Chavez by name in a statement about the recall. "We want to congratulate the Venezuelan people for the extraordinary civic spirit they demonstrated during yesterday's referendum," Casey said at a news briefing. He said the Bush administration, which has often harshly criticized Chavez, was awaiting final results and a report from election monitors.
But Carter and representatives of the Organization of American States endorsed the referendum process. "It's the responsibility of all Venezuelans to accept the results and work together in the future," Carter said.