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Last Updated: Monday, 4 December 2006, 00:01 GMT
Polls close in Venezuela election
Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan President
Hugo Chavez wants more time to complete his revolution.
Polling stations are closing in Venezuela, where people have voted in a presidential election offering starkly contrasting visions for the country.

Hugo Chavez, the left-wing incumbent and outspoken critic of the US, is seeking a new six-year term to complete his socialist revolution.

His main challenger, Manuel Rosales, wants to keep a market-based system.

Mr Chavez has won support from millions of poor Venezuelans by using oil wealth to boost social programmes.

He has been widely predicted to win the vote, but Mr Rosales has been gaining in popularity and leads an opposition that seems more united than it did a year ago.

Army guard

It will take some hours for the voting to wind up as the law requires polling stations to stay open until the last person in the queue has voted.

They were due to close at 2000 GMT, but voting was being extended because people were still outside polling stations.

People wait in line to cast their ballots in the capital, Caracas.

Whoever wins the election will have to try to unite a deeply divided country or face much political instability, the BBC's Greg Morsbach reports from Caracas.

Throughout the day there were long queues outside polling stations, many of which had army reservists protecting the electronic voting machines and booths from possible interference.

Hundreds of international election observers are in Venezuela, including from the European Union and the Organisation of American States.

Supporters of both Mr Chavez and Mr Rosales were also watching polling centres and are due to participate in a post-poll audit of more than half of the ballot boxes.

'Last chance'

Venezuela's 16 million voters have been deciding whether Mr Chavez should be rewarded with another term in office.

Mr Chavez, who rose to power in 1999 amid widespread disenchantment with the old political order, has promised to consolidate what he calls his "social revolution".

He knows what it is to be poor. He suffered it as a boy, and that's why he understands us and tries to help us
Rosa Gonzalez
Chavez supporter

He has garnered support by using the boom in oil revenues to redistribute wealth to the poor.

"Chavez was sent here by God," Rosa Gonzalez, 41, told the Associated Press news agency.

"He knows what it is to be poor. He suffered it as a boy, and that's why he understands us and tries to help us," she said.

However, Margarita Nunez, a 23-year-old student, told AP she feared the radical plans that Mr Chavez may have in mind.

"This is our last chance," she said ahead of the vote. "This is the last time we can stop him from ruining this country."

Mr Chavez's critics accuse him of concentrating power in his own hands and squandering Venezuela's oil wealth.

Mr Rosales, governor of the oil-rich western state of Zulia, says Venezuela's long-term interests lie in free-market policies and attracting foreign investment.

He has pledged to roll back policies which, he says, are leading the country towards a Cuban-style communist system.

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