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Venezuela's Maduro looks to inauguration as tensions subside

Nicolas Maduro steamrolled toward inauguration as Venezuela's president on Thursday despite days of flaring tensions over opposition demands for a recount in elections to replace Hugo Chavez.

CARACAS: Nicolas Maduro steamrolled toward inauguration as Venezuela's president on Thursday despite days of flaring tensions over opposition demands for a recount in elections to replace Hugo Chavez.

The late Chavez's political heir, Maduro appeared to have regained control of the situation after post-election protests turned violent in parts of the country, leaving eight people dead and more than 60 injured.

"We have defeated the coup d'etat," Maduro has declared, while accusing his rival Henrique Capriles of "sowing violence".

Caracas rang with the sounds of pots and pans banging for a second consecutive night Wednesday in frustration over the election results, but they were overlaid with explosions from rockets set off by Maduro's supporters in response.

With order seemingly restored for now, Maduro was expected to receive the backing of the Union of South American Nations, UNASUR, whose leaders were holding a special meeting in Lima, Peru devoted to the political crisis in the oil-rich Caribbean country.

Nearly all Latin American countries have recognized Maduro's election and several leaders were taking advantage of the summit to travel together to Caracas for his inauguration.

Presidents Dilma Roussef of Brazil, Cristina Kirchner of Argentina, Jose Mujica of Uruguay and Evo Morales of Bolivia have confirmed their attendance.

Preparations were underway to swear Maduro in with pomp and circumstance on Friday to complete Chavez's six-year term, cut short by his death from cancer March 5 after 14 years in power.

Chavez has been as dominant a figure here in death as he had been in life, but Maduro, campaigning as the comandante's political "son", barely won Sunday's elections, 50.8 to 49 percent, leaving him with an uncertain mandate.

Capriles, claiming irregularities in the vote, on Wednesday submitted a formal request for a recount to the National Election Council, which certified Maduro as the winner the day after the bitterly contested snap elections.

Maduro has the backing of the Supreme Court, which said it was impossible to conduct a manual recount, as the opposition has demanded.

The United States, cast by Chavistas as Latin America's bête noir, has supported the demand for an "audit" of the vote, a position also supported by the European Union which took "note" of Maduro's election.

But the president-elect, taking up the "anti-imperialist" banner of his mentor, poured scorn on the United States, Venezuela's biggest oil customer, saying "We don't care about your recognition."

Meanwhile, Capriles was awaiting an answer to his request from the National Election Council.

“The whole world is in complete agreement that there should be an audit because this strengthens democracy," he said in an interview on Wednesday night with NTN24, rebroadcast by Globovision television.

Why it has not taken place, he said, is "the big question that all Venezuelans are asking"..

The Venezuelan judicial system not only has shown no willingness to take up his cause, but could act on threats to prosecute the opposition for the violence that occurred during opposition protests.

The authorities announced this week that they have detained 135 people and placed under investigation a group of military officers suspected of plotting with the "Caprilistas".

At the wake of one of the eight victims, a 45-year-old man who was shot to death while shouting pro-Maduro slogans. The president-elect promised to stop the "group of fascists" responsible, calling on authorities to "accelerate the capture of the assassins."

Rejecting all responsibility for the violence, Capriles said he had called only for peaceful protests, notably the appeal to followers to bang their pots and pans, a traditional form of protest in the region.

"The full weight of the law should fall" on the perpetrators of the violence, he said.

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