Doubts cast over Venezuela election

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The Independent US

While President Hugo Chavez mingles with fellow oil exporters in the Middle East, tensions are growing back home over allegations of fraud in last month's elections.

While President Hugo Chavez mingles with fellow oil exporters in the Middle East, tensions are growing back home over allegations of fraud in last month's elections.

Pressure is building on the National Electoral Council to recount ballots manually in various regional races where the outcome was tight and technical or human errors fuelled charges of foul play.

The questioned balloting could cast doubt over the legitimacy of Chavez's newly re-elected government. It could also prolong political uncertainty in a country that has been without a democratically chosen Congress or Supreme Court for eight months, during which time Chavez's political coalition pushed through an overhaul of government institutions.

Chavez's own victory at the 30 July polls has not been questioned. But the triumph of his political allies in gubernatorial and mayoral races raised eyebrows in some regions where polls indicated the opposition candidate would win.

The official Iraqi press yesterday predicted that more world leaders will follow Mr Chavez, who on Thursday became the first head of state to visit Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War.

"Who will be the next hero?" Babel, Iraq's most influential newspaper, declared in a front-page editorial. Babel is owned by Saddam's son Odai. Indonesia, the stop after Iraq for Chavez on a tour of fellow members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, was quick to respond. Indonesia's President Abdurrahman Wahid said after meeting Chavez that he would visit Baghdad in the coming months and wanted UN sanctions against Iraq ended.

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