Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver who rose to become the late Hugo Chavez’s protégé and now Venezuela's president-elect, has accused the U.S. of sparking postelection violence in the country, resulting in seven deaths and scores of injuries, the government said on Tuesday.
Maduro narrowly won Sunday's election, beating rival Henrique Capriles with 50.8 percent of the vote, compared to Capriles' 49 percent -- a difference of about 262,000 votes. In total, 14.9 million ballots were cast, Venezuela’s National Electoral Commission said.
Maduro represents the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Capriles, governor of Miranda state and the candidate for the umbrella opposition group, Table for Democratic Unity, said he didn't accept the results and demanded a recount.
The U.S. State Department backed the opposition’s demand, saying it wouldn't recognize Maduro's win without a recount. It was joined by the governments of Panama and Paraguay, the Associated Press reports.
There were sporadic clashes between police and opposition members in several provincial Venezuelan cities on Monday, while protesters in the capital Caracas set up several roadblocks.
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Attorney General Luisa Ortega said the clashes left seven people dead, with more than 60 injured and 139 arrested. She noted that some offices had been set on fire and public property destroyed.
State media reported that two of those killed were shot while celebrating Maduro's victory in Caracas; one died in a government-run clinic in a central state, and two others were killed in an Andean border state.
In postelection public appearances, Maduro has harshly criticized his opponent, calling him “a fascist,” “a murderer” and “coup plotter.”
He also targeted Washington, saying the U.S. embassy in Caracas “financed and led” the street violence that followed the declaration of election results.
He said the government wouldn't be blackmailed and called on Venezuelans to remain peaceful.
"This is the responsibility of those who have called for violence, who have ignored the constitution and the institutions," Maduro said in a televised speech to the nation, carried by the BBC.
"Their plan is a coup d'etat," he added, while calling his own supporters onto the streets.
"If they want to overthrow me, come get me. With the people and the armed forces, I am here."
Capriles said the government was responsible for the violence as it sought to avoid a recount.
On Tuesday, he called off a previously announced rally of the National Electoral Council in Caracas, saying the opposition was ready "to open a dialogue with the government so that the crisis can be ended in the coming hours."
He claimed that Maduro's supporters were planning to infiltrate the march.
"Whoever goes out into the street tomorrow is playing the government's game," Capriles said. "The government wants there to be deaths in the country."