Venezuela's newly sworn-in President Nicolas Maduro pauses during… (Fernando Llano / Associated…)
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Nicolas Maduro, the handpicked successor of the late President Hugo Chavez, was sworn in to Venezuela's highest office Friday, despite refusal by a newly empowered opposition to accept defeat in a hotly contested election.
Flanked by huge portraits of Chavez, “our eternal commander,” and Simon Bolivar, legendary liberator of Latin America, Maduro held a miniature copy of the Venezuelan Constitution during a ceremony with numerous heads of state in attendance.
He swore allegiance to “God, Jesus Christ the Redeemer, the Venezuelan people and the memory of Hugo Chavez.” One of the late president’s daughters bestowed Maduro with the presidential sash.
Perhaps signaling the deep and sometimes violent divisions in this oil-rich country, Maduro began his inaugural speech with a promise to extend a hand to all Venezuelans to build an “inclusive nation” of peace and dialogue.
Thousands of government supporters dressed in red and waving banners filled the streets around the legislative palace where the ceremony took place.
On the eve of the event, the pro-government National Election Council surprised observers and agreed to opposition demands to review Sunday’s controversial vote. The process will take 30 days.
Still, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who lost to Maduro by less than 2 percentage points, according to official returns, said he was confident the review would prove he won. His campaign presented to the council more than 3,000 alleged irregularities.
The council apparently bowed to public pressure. Large crowds have taken to the streets in recent nights, beating pots and pans in a time-honored Latin American tradition of protest. Each night, they have been greeted by pro-government demonstrators trying to drown them out with fireworks.
Eight people were killed in clashes following Sunday's election.
Tibisay Lucena, electoral council president, said the review probably will start next week.
“[We] take this decision in hopes of helping to preserve a climate of harmony among Venezuelans and also to isolate violent sectors that irresponsibly seek to harm democracy,” she said.
At the swearing-in ceremony, which seemed as much homage to Chavez as installation of Maduro, delegations from 60 countries were said to be in attendance, including heads of states from much of Latin America and Iran.
The United States, which has called for a recount, was not expected to send a high-level delegation.
Chavez, a socialist populist who ruled Venezuela since 1999, died March 5 of cancer after anointing Maduro, a former bus driver, union leader and loyal cabinet member, as his successor.
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