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The BBC's Peter Greste in Caracas
"Chavez thanked the nation"
 real 56k

Former presidential candidate Enrique Salas Romer
"Very little has been done to improve Venezuela's lot"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 1 August, 2000, 01:19 GMT 02:19 UK
Chavez promises revolutionary change
Venezuelan flag
As victory became clear, Chavez supporters took to the streets
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has won another six years in office and a mandate to pursue his populist political reforms.

Mr Chavez promised to launch an ambitious new economic policy and urged investors to join his fight against the country's economic and social crises.

"Let us launch a revolutionary new model for Venezuela," Mr Chavez said, celebrating his victory over Francisco Arias Cardenas, an ex-paratrooper who took up arms with Mr Chavez against the government in 1992.

With 87% of the votes from Sunday's presidential election counted, Mr Chavez had won 59%, while Mr Arias trailed with 38%.

Chavez
Chavez hopes to kickstart the ailing economy
Allies of Mr Chavez won a majority in congressional elections, but fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to legislate without opposition.

Mr Chavez could face a viable opposition for the first time, if opposition parties manage to carry out their pledge to work more closely with each other.

US approval

The United States congratulated Mr Chavez, saying it was satisfied the vote had been free and fair.

Critics have accused Mr Chavez of frightening away investors with his populist style and praise of countries such as Cuba.

Caracas voter
A voter feeds his ballot paper into an electronic counter

Mr Arias remained defiant on Monday, saying he did not feel the result had been a defeat.

"I now take up the position of struggle to build freedom and better conditions in the entire country," he said.

Correspondents say the result is a ringing endorsement for Mr Chavez's constitutional reform, which includes rebuilding every political institution and giving the president sweeping powers.

'Crushing knockout'

"This is a crushing knockout. Everything I have in life I give to you," Mr Chavez told thousands of cheering supporters in an emotional victory speech delivered from the balcony of the presidential palace.

The president, a fierce nationalist who has promised to give the poor a share of Venezuela's vast oil wealth, won the election despite the failure of his 18-month-old government to pull the country out of a deep recession.

As victory became clear, thousands of Mr Chavez's supporters celebrated his re-election by setting off fireworks, dancing in the streets and screaming his name.

Crucial poll

Sunday's poll, covering almost every elected position in the country, has "re-legitimised" Venezuela's officials under the new constitution backed by Mr Chavez and approved in a referendum in December.

The National Electoral Council twice delayed closing polling stations to allow long queues of people to cast their ballots.

Francisco Arias Cardenas
Arias: Attracting the middle classes and business community

The BBC's Peter Greste in Caracas reports that Mr Chavez was so confident of victory that he went to play baseball with his presidential guard as the voting was going on.

Mr Chavez described the elections as the most important in the country's history, with members of congress, state governors and regional representatives being chosen. Only local council seats were not being contested.

Class struggle

The president, who has a vast power base among Venezuela's poor, has promised to take the country's oil profits out of the hands of the 5% of the population living in wealth, to benefit the 80% who live in poverty.

Some analysts say disaster looms for Venezuelans, whose economy shrank by 7% last year.

The president of the Venezuelan American Chamber of Commerce, Pedro Palma, has pointed out that Venezuela is so dependent on the price of oil that, for every dollar a barrel drops, the country loses $1bn in revenue.

Some middle-class Venezuelans are also worried about Mr Chavez' leftist rhetoric, his fondness for using the military in everyday life, and his growing links with Cuba.

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See also:

31 Jul 00 | Americas
Chavez: Visionary or demagogue?
10 Mar 00 | Americas
Former allies challenge Chavez
05 Nov 99 | Americas
Venezuela votes to extend presidency
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