Venezuelan parliament set up an inquiry on Wednesday into post-election violence that authorities claim was spawned by the opposition, while opposition leader Henrique Capriles accused Nicolas Maduro's government of stealing the country’s recent presidential elections and demanded details of an audit of the vote.
Clashes between police and opposition members in several provincial Venezuelan cities, after Maduro’s narrow election victory on April 14, left nine people dead and scores injured.
Tensions have been escalating between the ruling and opposition parties since the election, with the opposition accusing the ruling party of election fraud, while the government holding the opposition responsible for trying to stir up a coup d’état.
Ruling party congressman Pedro Carreno said the National Assembly “will put up a front of dignity and this [enquiry] commission will serve to unmask the media rabble on the one side, along with the fascism and the reactionary, criminal and murderous right wing that is run by Henrique Capriles,” the Wall Street Journal reported from Caracas.
Maduro, former leader Hugo Chavez's political heir, representing the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV, was sworn in on Apr. 19 at a ceremony attended by heads of states from Iran, Argentina and Cuba, among others, and amid protests from opposition supporters.
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Capriles, the governor of Miranda state and the candidate for the umbrella opposition group Table for Democratic Unity, or MUD, said he did not recognize Maduro’s victory on a margin of less than two percentage points and demanded a full recount.
“The truth — and it is as big as our country is wide — is that you [Maduro] stole the election. That is the truth. You stole this electoral process, and you have to explain that to this country and to the world,” Capriles told a news conference in Caracas, as reported by the AFP news agency.
He alleged that the voting was plagued by widespread irregularities, including voter intimidation, and demanded that the electoral commission publicize the details of an electronic audit.
The National Electoral Council (CNE) offered an electronic audit of the vote last week, to begin this week, but said Maduro's victory was “irreversible.”
The council has not released any details of the audit so far, prompting Capriles to issue an ultimatum on Wednesday saying the opposition would wait only until Thursday.
“We will not accept a joke audit,” Capriles said at the news conference, as reported by the BBC. “It's time to get serious.”
Meanwhile, Maduro named ruling lawmaker Calixto Ortega as the charge d'affaires at the embassy in Washington after the U.S. clarified that it was not seeking sanctions over Venezuela's disputed election.
The U.S. backs Venezuelan opposition’s demand, saying Washington would not recognize Maduro without a recount.
State Department acting deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell welcomed the appointment of the envoy, saying it was “important to establish effective channels of communication between governments so we can discuss matters of mutual concern.”
“We have had historical ties with the Venezuelan people — historical, human, and cultural ties — and we believe it is important and timely to establish a productive relationship based on mutual interests, such as counternarcotics, counterterrorism, the energy relationship, the commercial relationship. So that’s really where we are in terms of our relationship with the Venezuelans,” Ventrell said on Wednesday at the daily press briefing in Washington.