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The Latest: Maduro celebrates re-election, urges dialogue

May 21, 2018

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro showed his ID after voting during presidential elections in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, May 20, 2018. Amidst hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine Maduro is seeking a second six-year term in an election that a growing chorus of foreign governments refuse to recognize after key opponents were barred from running. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The latest on Sunday’s presidential election in Venezuela (all times local):

11:25 p.m.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is celebrating his re-election in an energized speech inviting his defeated challengers to join him for a dialogue about the country’s future.

Maduro spoke late Sunday to a crowd of cheering supporters at Venezuela’s presidential palace in the capital of Caracas. Election officials say he won nearly 68 percent of the votes, beating nearest challenger Henri Falcon by more than 40 points.

The election gives Maduro a second six-year term amid the oil-rich country’s deepening economic crisis that has many Venezuelans struggling to afford food and medicine.

Even before results were announced, Falcon rejected the election as illegitimate due to widespread irregularities and called for a new vote.

Maduro embraces the results, saying he is ready to meet with Falcon when and where he wants to set the agenda for Venezuela’s future.

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10:30 p.m.

Venezuela’s election officials say socialist leader Nicolas Maduro has won a second six-year term as president of the oil-rich South American country, while his main rivals are disputing the legitimacy of the vote and calling for a new election.

The National Election Council announced that with almost 93 percent of polling stations reporting, Maduro won nearly 68 percent of the votes in Sunday’s election, beating his nearest challenger Henri Falcon by almost 40 points.

The opposition throughout the day argued that a Maduro victory would lack legitimacy because many voters stayed home, heeding the call to boycott an election seen as rigged. Government critics also say other voters were pressured into voting for Maduro.

Electoral authorities say turnout is projected to reach 48 percent.

The United States and many governments around the world rejected the election even before ballots were cast as several key rivals of Maduro were barred from running.

Increasing authoritarian rule and mismanagement of the all-important state-run oil industry have caused a deepening economic crisis, putting Venezuelan on the brink of collapse.

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10:05 p.m.

Venezuelan presidential candidate Henri Falcon is calling for a new presidential election, saying that Sunday’s presidential vote was marred by irregularities and lacks legitimacy.

Falcon addressed supporters before the announcement of any results from the election, in which socialist President Nicolas Maduro is seeking a second six-year term.

Falcon says his campaign collected thousands of complaints indicating ruling party activists set up so-called “Red Points” intended to pressure the poor to vote for Maduro at 86 percent of voting centers across Venezuela.

The candidate says the election “without any doubt lacks legitimacy and we categorically refuse to recognize this process.”

Falcon also has harsh words for Venezuela’s main opposition coalition, saying its call to boycott the election that appears to have been widely heeded played into the government’s hands.

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9:40 p.m.

Venezuela’s military is giving a positive reading to Sunday’s presidential election, praising voters for going to the polls in peace and exercising their civic duty.

Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez made the remarks before any results were announced from the election, in which socialist President Nicolas Maduro is seeking a second six-year term.

Dressed in green fatigues and flanked by the military’s top command, Gen. Padrino Lopez said that “Venezuela has won again, peace has won again, our democracy has won again.”

Venezuela’s military has historically been the arbiter of political disputes, and as the OPEC member nation has fallen deeper into economic crisis many in the opposition as well as the Trump administration have looked to the armed forces to step in.

On Sunday, the main opposition coalition called on the military to prevent what it called a massive “farce” by Maduro to stay in power despite widespread absenteeism by voters.

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9:15 p.m.

Venezuela’s opposition coalition says President Nicolas Maduro is trying to inflate his vote tally by keeping polls open hours past the official closing to hide what it calls an electoral “farce” of mass absenteeism in Sunday’s presidential election.

Speaking on behalf of the newly created Broad Front coalition, opposition lawmaker Juan Pablo Guanipa says that “today wasn’t an electoral process where people could vote freely.

Guanipa says the election “was a farce by a dictator that wants to stay in power without popular support.”

Some polling centers have been kept open long beyond the scheduled 6 p.m. closing time and electoral authorities have yet to release any vote results. Many polling centers around Venezuela appeared nearly empty Sunday as voters suffering from food shortages and hyperinflation heeded a call to boycott the race as rigged.

Internal opposition estimates based on a quick count of ballots cast at a sampling of voting centers obtained by The Associated Press put turnout around 40 percent. If confirmed, it would be the lowest since Venezuela’s democracy was restored in 1958 following the removal of military dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez.

Guanipa called for new elections in which all candidates, including those barred by the Maduro government in Sunday’s race, are allowed to compete.

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7:40 p.m.

Polling stations remain open well after dark in Venezuela, despite low turnout all day in the presidential election.

The National Electoral Council hasn’t announced the shutdown of polling stations more than an hour after they should have closed.

Socialist President Nicolas Maduro is seeking a second 6-year term amid a crushing economic crisis. He faces a handful of challengers, including Henri Falcon, a former socialist party loyalist and former governor who ran as an independent candidate.

By law, Venezuela’s polling stations are supposed to close at 6 p.m., unless voters are still waiting to cast ballots. The opened at 6 a.m.

Falcon’s campaign asked election witnesses to stay alert and record any irregularities they see.

It is unclear when election results will be available.

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4:40 p.m.

Small groups of Venezuelan exiles are holding demonstrations in cities around the globe to protest their homeland’s presidential election, which they say is a farce.

Demonstrators in cities including Miami, Bogota, Lima and Paris held up signs that read “Maduro Assassin” and “Fraud” while waving Venezuelan flags.

Most of the protests Sunday had no more than a few dozen participants.

Protester Paulina Facchin in Peru’s capital said Venezuelans shouldn’t cast ballots in an election for which authorities have “already determined the winner.”

Opposition leaders have repeatedly tried to rekindle anti-government protests that drew thousands to the streets in Venezuela last year but have drawn small crowds.

Outside the country many Venezuelans have become resigned to building new lives abroad.

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4 p.m.

President Nicolas Maduro is calling on Venezuelans to get out and vote in the final hours of election day as several polling sites remain nearly empty.

In a televised broadcast Sunday, Maduro reminded Venezuelans there was still time to vote and asked them to “encourage” those who hadn’t yet cast a ballot.

He said voting is needed to secure the nation’s peace and democracy.

Opposition leaders have been pushing Venezuelans to abstain from voting in an election they contend is unfair and certain to be rigged in Maduro’s favor.

Many Venezuelans appear to be heeding that call. There have been few voters in line at several polling sites around the capital.

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3:30 p.m.

The head of Venezuela’s pro-government electoral council says officials are making “corrections” where needed following complaints that socialist supporters are engaging in political proselytism near voting sites.

National Electoral Council president Tibisay Lucena said Sunday that a handful of complaints about “political centers” had been determined valid and any errors rectified.

Lucena didn’t address details about the complaints but said that overall they were “nothing in comparison to previous electoral processes.”

Opposition leaders say socialist supporters are breaking Venezuelan electoral law by setting up tents within less than 200 meters from polling sites.

Voters say they hope they’ll get a cash bonus or even a free apartment by scanning their government-issued “Fatherland Card” at the tents.

The opposition contends such moves are a way of extorting Venezuelans into voting for President Nicolas Maduro.

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2:26 p.m.

Voters in an opposition stronghold of Venezuela’s capital are delivering a resounding message to the former prime minister of Spain: Get out.

Venezuelans who were lined up to vote Sunday heckled Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero as he exited a polling site in the upper-class Chacao district.

Zapatero is in Venezuela to observe the election and drew rebuke from rights activists after declaring that electors will “vote freely.”

Venezuela’s election has drawn international condemnation from foreign governments who say it is stacked in the ruling party’s favor.

One woman outside the Chacao voting site told a local television station that if Zapatero likes communism he should “go install it in Spain.”

Zapatero has been involved in recent failed attempts to mediate an accord between Venezuela’s socialist government and the opposition.

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1:01 p.m.

President Nicolas Maduro’s two main challengers are calling on electoral authorities to step in to stop ruling party activists from pressuring poor voters into casting ballots for the government.

Henri Falcon and Javier Bertucci both said they had received more than 300 complaints about the existence of so-called “red points” steps away and even inside voting centers.

Venezuela’s electoral law requires any political proselytism to take place at least 200 meters from voting centers.

Many of the voters said they hoped their loyalty to the revolution amid an unprecedented economic crisis would be rewarded with a cash bonus, or even a new apartment.

“This is not a democratic act,” said Bertucci, a TV evangelist, after casting his ballot in the city of Valencia.

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10:43 a.m.

The U.S. Department of State spokeswoman has called Venezuelan elections illegitimate.

In a Twitter post Heather Nauert also said that the U.S. supports “free and fair elections.”

“Venezuela’s so-called elections today are not legitimate. The United States stands with democratic nations around the world in support of the Venezuelan people and their sovereign right to elect their representatives through free and fair elections,” she wrote.

Sunday’s election has drawn broad criticism since some of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s most-popular rivals were barred from running, and several more were forced into exile.

Echoing the views of Venezuela’s tattered opposition movement, the U.S., European Union and many Latin American countries have already said they won’t recognize the results.

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9:22 a.m.

The leafy streets in the opposition stronghold of eastern Caracas were largely empty on Sunday, but voters in other parts of the city headed to the polls.

Near Petare, Caracas’ biggest slum, festive revolutionary music played as a few dozen voters stood in a long line to flash their so-called “fatherland cards” to socialist party volunteers.

A woman wearing a Sports Ministry jacket in the red, yellow and blue colors of Venezuela’s flag scanned each card with her phone — a form of verifying that cardholders had done their patriotic duty of voting, presumably for President Nicolas Maduro.

The existence of so-called “Red Points,” many just a few steps from voting centers, is an integral part of the government’s get out the vote machinery.

“If the opposition wants to do the same, they are free to do so,” said Rigoberto Barazarte, the owner of a small car wash business who wants to see a re-elected Maduro toughen his stance against elites he says are trying to sabotage Venezuela’s economy.

The opposition considers it a pressure tactic, tantamount to using food as a form of political coercion. Since 2017, the government has issued 16.5 million fatherland cards, which are used to access social programs and benefits.

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8:09 a.m.

Pope Francis is praying that “beloved” Venezuela’s people and rulers will wisely choose peace and unity as the nation elects a new president.

Francis, addressing faithful in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, asked that the “Holy Spirit give all the Venezuelan people, everyone, leaders, people, the wisdom to find the path of peace and unity.”

He also prayed for prison inmates who died last Saturday. Human rights advocates say 11 people were killed in the Venezuelan prison riot sparked by inmates who wrestled a gun from jailers.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is expected to win a second term in the election, despite food shortages and soaring inflation. His main rivals are boycotting due to distrust of the electoral council, which is controlled by government loyalists.

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7 a.m.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro cast his ballot in Caracas shortly after fireworks and loud speakers blasting a military hymn roused Venezuelans from sleep around 5 a.m. local time.

He said Venezuelans would provide an example of democracy to the world and brushed back suggestions he was taking the country down an authoritarian path.

“It’s offensive when they say the Venezuelan people are falling under dictatorship,” he said after voting, adding that if he were to win the election he would seek an understanding with his opponents on a way forward for the crisis-wracked country. “I’m going to stubbornly and obsessively insist in dialogue for peace.”

Maduro is expected to win a second six-year term in Sunday’s election, despite a deepening crisis that’s made food scarce and inflation soar as oil production in the once wealthy nation plummets.

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