CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition leaders feared persecution over post-election protests while the U.S. government backed their calls for a recount and said on Wednesday it was still deciding if it would recognize President-elect Nicolas Maduro.
The narrow victory by Maduro in Sunday’s presidential vote has been rejected by his rival, Henrique Capriles, who is alleging thousands of irregularities at polling centers and wants a full audit of the ballots.
Eight people have died in opposition-led protests, and the government has vowed legal action against Capriles and others whom they accuse of stirring violence against its backers.
Washington said it had not decided whether to recognize Maduro, a former bus driver-turned-foreign minister who was picked as successor by the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.
“We think there ought to be a recount,” Secretary of State John Kerry told U.S. lawmakers. “Obviously, if there are huge irregularities, we are going to have serious questions about the viability of that government … I’m not sure that’s over yet.”
Maduro responded by accusing Washington of directly supporting the Venezuelan right-wing “like never before” in a war against the people and Chavez’s revolution.
“The U.S. intervention in Venezuelan internal affairs in recent months, and particularly during the election campaign, has been brutal, vulgar,” he said in a broadcasted speech.
During Chavez’s 14-year tenure, Venezuela was the U.S. government’s main irritant in Latin America and the former soldier frequently invoked “imperialist” plots against him.
The latest instability in the OPEC nation with the world’s largest oil reserves has sent Venezuelan bond prices tumbling.
The unrest, just weeks after Chavez’s death from cancer, has laid bare the deep polarization of a country split down the middle between pro- and anti-government factions, and left its 29 million people on edge.
Capriles says he is sure he won and that his team has evidence of 3,200 irregularities, from voters using fake IDs to intimidation of volunteers at polling centers. Opposition sources say their count showed Capriles had an extra 300,000 to 400,000 votes not shown in the official tally.
The CNE has refused to hold a recount, saying an audit of ballots from 54 percent of the polling centers, in a widely respected electronic voting system, had already been done.