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Tensions mount after tight Venezuelan vote; government says 7 killed in post-election violence

By Paula Newton and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Wed April 17, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Capriles: "The right to demand the counting of votes...cannot be a crime"
  • Protesters bang pots and pans in a continued push for a recount
  • 7 people have died in post-election protests, state news agency reports
  • Maduro: "If they continue with the violence, we can radicalize this revolution"

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Caracas, Venezuela (CNN) -- The sounds of clanking pots and pans and bursting fireworks rang out in Caracas on Tuesday night as tensions mounted over Venezuela's tight election results.

It was a clear sign that days after Sunday's presidential vote, fierce political battles are far from over in the deeply divided country.

Supporters of opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski banged pots and pans to protest the government's refusal to recount the votes, while supporters of President-elect Nicolas Maduro set off fireworks to celebrate his victory and drown out the noise.

Maduro, former President Hugo Chavez's handpicked successor, is scheduled to be sworn in on Friday. Election authorities proclaimed him president-elect on Monday despite Capriles' demand for a recount.

On Tuesday, Venezuela's top prosecutor said at least seven people had been killed and 61 had been injured in post-election violence across the country.

Chaos in Caracas post-vote
Did Maduro win fair and square?
Capriles to Maduro: 'You are the loser'

And the state-run AVN news agency reported that authorities had arrested 135 people in connection with political violence.

The government news agency tied the deaths to opposition protests and said the victims were all followers of Maduro. Government health clinics, food distribution centers, a bank and a preschool program were the targets of violence, officials said.

CNN could not independently confirm the government reports of violence, and it was unknown whether there were any opposition injuries or fatalities.

Maduro secured 50.8% of votes in Sunday's election, while opposition candidate Capriles won 49%, Venezuela's National Electoral Council said.

Since the tally was announced, both Capriles and Maduro have publicly urged supporters to remain peaceful while also accusing each other of inciting violence.

The issue of post-election clashes swiftly became a flashpoint for a new round of political sparring Tuesday, as Capriles repeated his calls for a recount and Maduro vowed to use an iron fist to crack down on any attempts to unseat him from the presidency.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Capriles presented a list of alleged election violations that he said impacted hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans, including problems with voting machines, inconsistencies in tallies reported by voting centers and reports that opposition witnesses were forced out of hundreds of polls.

"The right to demand the counting of votes in a country where there is democracy....cannot be a crime," he told CNN en Español in an exclusive interview Tuesday night.

Capriles called off plans to protest at the central office of Venezuela's election authority in Caracas on Wednesday, saying the government had planned to infiltrate their ranks and provoke violence. Anyone who takes to the streets Wednesday, he said, is not affiliated with his campaign.

"The government wants there to be deaths in the country," he said, accusing authorities of using violence to distract from his push for a recount.

"We are not going to step into that trap," Capriles told CNN en Español.

Hours before the protest was canceled, Maduro had said the planned opposition protest in Caracas was illegal and accused opposition leaders of a plot to massacre their own people and later blame the government.

Maduro has not responded to CNN's interview requests.

In nationally televised remarks Tuesday, he accused the U.S. Embassy of fueling opposition violence.

"The U.S. Embassy is the one who has financed and directed all the acts of violence in this country. It has financed these neo-Nazi groups," he said.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to Maduro's accusation, but last month a spokeswoman said "the United States categorically rejects allegations of any U.S. government involvement in any plots to destabilize the Venezuelan government or to harm anyone in Venezuela."

If violence surges, Maduro said he would not hold back from taking action.

"If they continue with the violence," he said, "what we can do is radicalize this revolution."

As heated public comments from Maduro and Capriles filled the airwaves, sharp accusations surged in social media.

In a series of Twitter posts Tuesday, a top official in Maduro's United Socialist Party of Venezuela blamed Capriles for the violence and called for a criminal investigation of the opposition candidate.

"Fascist Capriles, I will personally see that you pay for all of the damage that you're doing to our homeland and our people," said Diosdado Cabello, president of Venezuela's National Assembly. "They chased after doctors, burned dwellings, you caused all of this, Capriles, you irresponsible one."

Another congressman, Pedro Carreno, said in a Twitter post that authorities should arrest Capriles. A spokesman for Carreno's office told CNN that the congressman planned to call for a debate on the issue in the National Assembly Tuesday.

Andres Izarra, a top official for Maduro's campaign, said in a Twitter post that Capriles should be imprisoned.

As the National Assembly met Tuesday, Cabello told lawmakers that he would only recognize those who recognize Maduro as president.

"If you do not recognize the president, I do not recognize you as congressmen," he said, "because you were elected by the same (system)."

Analysis: Why Venezuela is so divided?

CNN's Paula Newton reported from Caracas. CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet wrote the story in Atlanta. CNN's Fernando del Rincon, Jose Armijo and journalist Osmary Hernandez contributed to this report.

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