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Manual recount not possible in Venezuela, chief justice says

By Rafael Romo. Catherine E. Shoichet and Paula Newton, CNN
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Thu April 18, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Maduro says he doesn't care if the United States recognizes his presidency
  • Chief justice says the constitution does not allow for manual recounts
  • Protesters bang pots and pans in a continued push for a recount
  • 8 people have died in post-election protests, state news agency reports

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Caracas, Venezuela (CNN) -- A manual recount of votes isn't possible in Venezuela, the head of the country's Supreme Court said Wednesday, suggesting there is no legal basis for the opposition's push for a ballot-by-ballot audit of the narrow presidential election results.

In nationally televised remarks, Venezuelan Chief Justice Luisa Estella Morales said Venezuela's 1999 constitution eliminated manual recounts in favor of a "system audit."

"In Venezuela the electoral system is completely automated. Therefore, a manual count does not exist. Anyone who thought that could really happen has been deceived," she said. "The majority of those who are asking for a manual count know it and are clear about it. Elections are not audited ballot by ballot but through the system."

Her comments came a day after the sounds of clanking pots and pans and bursting fireworks rang out in Caracas as tensions mounted over Venezuela's tight election results.

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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, the late 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.

Venezuela's state-run AVN news agency said at least eight people had been killed in post-election violence across the country. AVN also 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 has become a flashpoint for a new round of political sparring, 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.

Analysis: Why Venezuela is so divided?

Capriles' repeated demands for a recount have left key questions about Venezuela's future unanswered: Will Maduro's supporters stick behind him? Will tension in the deeply divided country boil over after the tight race? And will world leaders recognize the results?

U.S Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that he could not say if he would recognize Maduro as the president-elect or not.

"We think there ought to be a recount. ... Obviously if there are huge irregularities we're going to have serious questions about the viability of that government," Kerry said during a hearing of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.

His comments drew a stern response from Maduro, who said Wednesday in national broadcast remarks Wednesday that he "does not care" whether the United States recognizes his election victory.

"Don't recognize anything. Your recognition does not matter to us," Maduro said. "We have decided to be free and we are going to be free and independent, with you or without you. Your opinion is not important to us."

CNN's Paula Newton reported from Caracas. CNN's Rafael Romo and Catherine E. Shoichet reported from Atlanta. CNN's Esprit Smith, Pierre Mielhan and Jose Armijo contributed to this report.

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