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Last Updated: Friday, 9 July, 2004, 01:37 GMT 02:37 UK
Chavez defiant over crunch vote
Chavez supporter
Mr Chavez presides over a divided society
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez says he will stand for the country's highest office again if he loses a referendum on his rule on 15 August.

Mr Chavez said that if his opponents won, he would run in the presidential elections a month later.

Electoral authorities ruled last month that Mr Chavez could stand again in 2006, but did not say if he could do so immediately after the recall vote.

If Mr Chavez is defeated, an election will be held within 30 days.

The winner would serve out the remainder of Mr Chavez's current six-year term, which began in 2000.

Mr Chavez made his comments in the Argentine resort of Puerto Iguazu, where he was attending a summit of the Mercosur trade bloc.

"If I lose, I will hand over the presidency," he said.

"I have no problems about that, because the following month, I'll be fighting for the presidency again."

Correspondents say Mr Chavez's remarks are certain to heighten tensions over the referendum, which was called after months of campaigning by the country's opposition.


Next month, the electorate of more than 12 million people will be asked to respond to the question: "Do you agree to nullify for the current presidential term the popular mandate conferred through democratic and legitimate elections on Mr Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias as president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela?"

Correspondents say Venezuela has been bitterly polarised by more than five years of Mr Chavez.

His supporters praise him for improving the lives of the poor with extensive social programmes, while his opponents see him as a demagogue who draws inspiration from Fidel Castro's Cuba.

At the Mercosur summit, Venezuela was welcomed into the trade bloc as an associate member, while Mexico was accepted in principle.

Since it came into being in 1991, the bloc's founder members - Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay - have been joined by associate members Bolivia, Chile and Peru.

Venezuela's accession came amid signs of a deepening friendship between Mr Chavez and Argentina's populist President Nestor Kirchner.

The two leaders paid a surprise visit to the Rio Santiago shipyard in Buenos Aires province, where Mr Chavez told workers that Latin America had embarked on "a new model of economic integration".

Earlier, Mr Chavez and Mr Kirchner signed a deal to form a strategic energy alliance to be known as Petrosur.

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