Chavez claims victory in august 2004 recall attempt
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Recall vote: Chavez claims victory
CARACAS, Venezuela (CNN) -- Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, the world's fifth largest oil exporter, has claimed victory in a popular referendum to oust him.
Initial results showed about 5 million people, or 58 percent of the turnout, voted to keep the leftist populist president in office while 3.6 million people, 42 percent, favored ousting him. Opposition leaders rejected the results as a "gigantic fraud."
The result -- if confirmed by final results expected to be announced later on Monday -- means Chavez can complete the remaining two years of his term.
World oil prices promptly fell from fresh record highs with the result easing fears that unrest could upset the country's oil exports. (Full story)
U.S light crude oil for September fell to $46.33 a barrel at 1000 GMT Monday, down from an early peak of $46.91. London Brent was down to $43.35 a barrel.
Shortly after the announcement in Caracas by election commission chief Francisco Carrasquero, a triumphant Chavez appeared on the balcony of the presidential palace as thousands of flag-waving and cheering supporters appeared below.
"Long live the constitution ... of Venezuela," Chavez said. "Long live the Venezuelan people. What a great victory."
But the opposition vowed they would contest the outcome. "We firmly and categorically reject the result," opposition leader Henry Ramos Allup told a news conference.
"We're going to collect the evidence to prove to Venezuela and the world the gigantic fraud which has been committed against the will of the people."
CNN's Karl Penhaul said many opposition supporters were in tears at their apparent defeat and that it was possible some may take to the streets in protest.
Millions had turned out on Sunday to weigh in on Chavez's rule -- prompting voting hours to be extended twice.
Voting was first extended from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. (0000 GMT), but with thousands of people lined up to cast ballots on whether to keep Chavez in office, officials extended balloting until midnight.
Chavez, a former army officer, was elected president in 1998 with overwhelming support of the country's poor, but many people in the middle and upper classes call him a budding tyrant.
They accuse him of steering Venezuela toward communism and of riding roughshod over the nation's democratic institutions.
The country has been wracked by anti-Chavez demonstrations for more than a year, and opponents managed to collect enough signatures to force a recall vote in June.
For Chavez to be recalled, at least 3.76 million Venezuelans needed to have voted to remove him -- the number of votes the former paratrooper won in 2000, when he was re-elected to a six-year term.
Analysts had said the opposition faced an uphill battle with estimates showing that only 4 to 5 million of the nation's 25 million people were vehemently anti-Chavez. Opponents collected 2.4 million signatures to force the recall vote.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Center is among international groups monitoring the referendum, called it "the largest turnout I have ever seen."
Some voters waited as long as 10 hours before being able to cast a ballot, and independent observers said the outcome was too close to call.
One woman was killed and 12 people wounded by a man in a shooting at a Caracas polling place, the city's fire chief told CNN. He described the man as "deranged," and said there was no other reports of violence.
Chavez cast his own vote early in the day and repeated his promise to respect the outcome, even if that meant he must step down.
Larry Birns, director of a Washington-based think-tank called the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, said Chavez's support was centered among the 18 million to 19 million Venezuelans who were poor.
Even if Chavez lost, he could probably have run again within 30 days in the next election, Birns said.
Chavez, who led a 1992 coup attempt before being elected president, has used the recent rise in oil prices to offer a welter of new social services to the majority poor in the nation, which is the world's fifth-largest exporter of oil.
Those services include education, health care and subsidized food.
He was ousted in a 2002 coup that his supporters blamed on the United States -- an allegation Washington denies -- but he returned to power within days when the opposition collapsed.
CNN Correspondent Lucia Newman contributed to this report.
Copyright 2004 CNN.