World

Venezuela election protests leave 7 dead, 61 injured

Venezuela's president-elect blames the opposition for seven deaths and 61 injuries that the government claims have occurred in disturbances protesting his election, and he accused the U.S. of organizing the unrest.

Marches demanding a recount turn violent

Riot police in the capital Caracas fired tear gas at supporters of opposition leader Henrique Capriles who were calling for a recount of Sunday's election. (Christian Veron/Reuters)

Venezuela's president-elect blamed the opposition Tuesday for seven deaths and 61 injuries that the government claims have occurred in disturbances protesting his election, and he accused the U.S. of organizing the unrest.

Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles later accused the government of being behind the violence.

Nicolas Maduro's accusation against Washington came after the U.S. State Department said it would not recognize the results of Sunday's unexpectedly close election without the vote-by-vote recount being demanded by Capriles.

"The [U.S.] embassy has financed and led all these violent acts," President-elect Maduro, the chosen heir of the late Hugo Chavez, said during a televised meeting at the headquarters of the state oil company.

Earlier, he said he would not allow an opposition protest march called for Wednesday in Caracas, saying Capriles was "responsible for the dead we are mourning" from violence during protests across the country.

Maduro then summoned his own his supporters to take to the streets Wednesday in the capital, raising the possibility of a confrontation with anti-government protesters.

But Capriles called off the planned opposition march. "Whoever goes out into the street tomorrow is playing the government's game," he said. "The government wants there to be deaths in the country."

He said accusations by officials that he is mounting an attempt to overthrow the socialist government a smoke screen to divert attention from his demand for a recount.

"I want to ask Mr. Maduro to calm down a bit. I think he's sort of going crazy," Capriles said at a news conference.

Police and protesters clash

According to the regime-friendly National Electoral Council, which quickly certified Maduro's election Monday, he defeated Capriles by 262,000 votes out of 14.9 million ballots cast.

Outside the capital, a march to demand a recount turned violent in the capital of Barinas, home state of Chavez. Police fired tear gas and plastic bullets at protesters heeding Capriles' call for protests by marching on the provincial headquarters of the electoral council. Opposition leaders reported 30 arrests. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Barinas Gov. Adan Chavez is a brother of the longtime Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez who succumbed to cancer March 5.

In a separate televised broadcast, Justice Minister Nestor Reverol accused Capriles of numerous crimes, including insurrection and civil disobedience.

It was part of a drumbeat of attacks by government officials who have been alleging since Monday that Capriles is plotting a coup.

Chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega said 135 people had been detained in protests, presumably on Monday, when Capriles' supporters also protested in Caracas and other cities, including Merida and Maracay.

Reverol said one death involved a man in the capital who he said was shot by opposition supporters. He said other shooting deaths, in the states of Sucre, Tachira and Zulia, were being investigated.

Ortega said those killed were humble members of the working class.

Capriles issued a message on Twitter blaming the government, which he says stole the election.

"The illegitimate one and his government ordered that there be violence to avoid counting the votes," Capriles tweeted. "They are responsible!"

Serious questions were raised about Maduro's ability to lead after he squandered a double-digit lead in the race despite an outpouring of sympathy for his party following Chavez's death.

Maduro creates 'anti-coup' command

On Monday, thousands of students briefly clashed with National Guard troops who fired tear gas and plastic bullets while people across the nation banged on pots and pans to demand a recount.

Late Monday, Maduro announced he had met with a newly created "anti-coup" command at the military museum that holds Chavez's remains.

He accused opposition protesters of attacking government clinics and the house of electoral council President Tibisay Lucena, without offering details.

Security analyst Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America said the tensions increased chances the government might arrest opposition leaders, although he wondered whether security forces would comply with a wave of arrest orders.

He said he was more concerned about "mob violence against opposition figures, and perhaps pro-government ones, too."

Pro-government motorcycle gangs, some of them armed, have in the past threatened and attacked opposition activists.

Government leaders and military leaders have closed ranks around Maduro despite his weak showing Sunday.