Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski said Thursday that the
country's election agency has until today to start a promised recount of the
ballots from the April 14 presidential vote or face the consequences.
Capriles, who lost the presidential contest by fewer than 300,000 votes out of more than 14.7 million cast, did not say what those consequences are, but his supporters have been calling for mass demonstrations.
The winner, Nicolas Maduro, is an avowed socialist who was the handpicked successor of former president Hugo Chavez, an anti-American leader who died from cancer.
Capriles accuses Maduro of election fraud and says the Venezuela election agency is stalling on a recount, subverting the will of the country.
Four of the agency's five directors are supporters of Maduro, and Capriles, the governor of the state of Miranda, has repeatedly questioned their impartiality. Venezuela's election agency said last week that it would hold a recount but has given few details about the procedure.
"The truth is that they stole the election," Capriles said at a news conference. "We are not going to let them mock us."
Capriles warned that he wouldn't accept any shortcuts or any superficial recounts.
The drama is threatening to plunge Venezuela, which has the world's largest oil reserves, into its worst political crisis since 2004, when the country's opposition tried to recall Chavez.
"The more they drag out this recount, the more ammunition it gives Capriles," said Risa Grais-Targow, an analyst with Eurasia Group. "And by doing so, the government is also creating the suspicion that they have something to hide."
Capriles' threats come amid signs of mounting political persecution in the country. Several ministers in Maduro's Cabinet have threatened to fire Capriles supporters who work in their ministries.
Earlier this week, Maduro's prison minister, Iris Varela, said she was preparing a jail cell for Capriles, saying he should be held responsible for post-election violence in which at least eight people have died.
Maduro and his supporters have said that Capriles is putting the nation on the edge of crisis by pitting Venezuelans against each other. Capriles denies the charge.
"The country should remember who are calling for divisions," Capriles said. "They are the same people who for months lied to us about the health of the president, who said I was going to withdraw from the presidential race, and who said there wouldn't be a devaluation."
The government recently devalued Venezuela's currency to cope with high inflation.
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