Hugo Chavez's successor Nicolas Maduro wins Venezuela election in highly contested result

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Voters narrowly elected Hugo Chavez's hand-picked successor as president today, in a razor-close election.

Click here to see photos of different reactions across the capital

Winner Nicolas Maduro campaigned on a promise to carry on Mr Chavez's self-styled socialist revolution and defeated a two-time challenger who claimed the late president's regime has put Venezuela on the road to ruin.

Officials say Maduro defeated Henrique Capriles by only about 300,000 votes. The margin was 50.8 to 49.1%.

Mr Maduro's stunningly close victory came after a campaign in which he promised to carry on Mr Chavez's self-proclaimed socialist revolution, while Mr Capriles declared that the Chavez regime put Venezuela on the road to ruin.

Mr Maduro, acting president since Mr Chavez's death from cancer, held a double-digit advantage just two weeks ago.

Chavistas set off fireworks and blasted car horns as they cruised through Caracas in jubilation.

There was no immediate word from the Capriles camp but Mr Maduro addressed a crowd from the presidential palace, calling his victory further proof that Mr Chavez "continues to be invincible, that he continues to win battles".

He said Mr Capriles had called him before the results were announced to suggest a "pact" but he had refused.

Mr Maduro, a long-time foreign minister to Mr Chavez, rode a wave of sympathy for the charismatic leader to victory, pinning his hopes on the immense loyalty for his boss among millions of poor beneficiaries of government largesse and the powerful state apparatus that Mr Chavez skilfully consolidated.

Mr Capriles' main campaign weapon was to simply emphasise "the incompetence of the state" in handling the world's largest oil reserves.

Millions of Venezuelans were lifted out of poverty under Mr Chavez, but many also believe his government not only squandered, but plundered, much of the one trillion dollars in oil revenues during his tenure.

Venezuelans are afflicted by chronic power cuts, crumbling infrastructure, unfinished public works projects, double-digit inflation, food and medicine shortages and rampant crime - one of the world's highest murdere and kidnapping rates - that the opposition said worsened after Mr Chavez died on March 5.

That discontent was thick across the nation.

"We can't continue to believe in messiahs," said Jose Romero, a 48-year-old industrial engineer who voted for Capriles in the central city of Valencia.

"This country has learned a lot and today we know that one person can't fix everything."

Turnout was 78%, down from just over 80% in the October election that Mr Chavez won by a nearly 11-point margin.

AP

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