Venezuela high court chief: No basis for recount


CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's Supreme Court president said Wednesday there is no legal basis for holding a vote-by-vote recount that opposition candidate Henrique Capriles is demanding for the disputed presidential election.

It was the latest indication that the governing system left behind by Hugo Chavez when he died of cancer last month has no intention of agreeing to Capriles' request. He claims Sunday's election was stolen from him.

Capriles has not formally filed a request for a recount with the National Electoral Council, which on Monday ratified Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's anointed successor, as the winner. The council says Maduro won with 50.8 percent of the vote to Capriles' 49 percent.

Judge Luisa Estela Morales, the Supreme Court chief, said Venezuela's voting system is so automated that a manual count doesn't exist. Technically, however, a recount is possible as paper receipts are issued for every vote cast and can be checked against tallies done by each voting machine, voter registries and centralized records.

"This presumed instigation to a manual count has angered many Venezuelans," said Morales, whose court, like all of Venezuela's national government institutions, is packed with Chavista loyalists. What was unusual about her statement is that it was impromptu, unrelated to any specific court case.

Morales is the same judge who issued a controversial decision three days after Chavez's March 5 death saying that Maduro effectively became president at the moment of his mentor's passing. That enabled Maduro to be sworn in the same day as acting president.

Analysts say Capriles has few options, given Maduro's solid hold on all the levers of power, including the loyalty of the military high command. On Tuesday, Capriles canceled a big protest march he had called for Wednesday after Maduro responded by telling his backers to take to the streets, too.

"Whoever goes out into the street tomorrow is playing the government's game," Capriles said. "The government wants there to be deaths in the country."

Edgard Gutierrez, an independent Venezuelan political consultant, said that given the lack of an institutional solution to the dispute, Capriles' supporters "are going to become disenchanted" if he doesn't summon them into the streets to protest.

Capriles has presented a series of allegations of vote fraud and other irregularities that he contends easily add up to more than Maduro's 262,000-vote winning margin about of 14.9 million votes cast. In addition, the electoral council says about 100,000 votes from abroad had not been counted by Wednesday, and Capriles got about 90 percent of such overseas ballots in the October presidential election won by Chavez.

Capriles' list of alleged irregularities includes:

— Government backers forced his observers out of 283 polling places at which 722,983 votes were cast, and the lack of witnesses raises the possibility of fraud, including double voting.

— Menacing packs of government supporters turned pro-Capriles voters away from the polls.

— There were 3,535 damaged voting machines, representing 189,982 votes.

— Voting rolls included 600,000 dead people.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday reiterated Washington's call for a recount. He declined to say whether the U.S. would refuse to recognize a Maduro presidency without one. Panama and Paraguay are the only other foreign governments to demand a recount.

All day Tuesday, Maduro and his ruling circle filled Venezuela's airways with a steady drumbeat of attacks on Capriles. They called him a coup plotter and accused him of inciting post-election violence by "neo-Nazi gangs" that the government said claimed seven lives and injured 61.

Maduro further charged that the violence was being bankrolled and directed by the United States.

It was not clear, however, whether the violence was as serious as Maduro claimed. Venezuela has an average of more than 40 homicides daily, one of the highest rates in the world, and the government offered almost no information on the deaths.

Capriles called the government assault a smoke screen to divert attention from his recount demand.

A number of opposition protests across Venezuela on Monday and Tuesday turned violent, but apparently only after National Guard riot troops and police used tear gas and plastic pellets to keep marchers away from electoral council offices. There were no reports of deaths in those confrontations.

Maduro's government said 15 countries had confirmed they were sending high-level delegations to Maduro's swearing-in Friday. They included Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Haiti, Uruguay and Argentina.

Interior Minister Nestor Reverol accused Capriles of numerous crimes, including insurrection and civil disobedience. National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello said criminal investigations should also be opened against two top Capriles aides, Lara state Gov. Henry Falcon and Carlos Ocariz.

The Chavistas have long used a loyal criminal justice system to repress the opposition, human rights groups say. A Capriles campaign aide, Leopoldo Lopez, is currently facing influence-peddling charges in a 15-year-old case that he calls part of an attempt to selectively silence a now-emboldened opposition.

Security analyst Adam Isacson at the Washington Office on Latin America said the rising tension increases chances that the government could arrest opposition leaders. But he said he was more worried about "mob violence against opposition figures, and perhaps pro-government ones, too."


Associated Press writers Vivian Sequera, Fabiola Sanchez and Christopher Toothaker contributed to this report.