Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles called off a march by his supporters in Caracas planned for Wednesday, saying that his rivals were plotting to infiltrate the rally to trigger violence. Violent clashes at opposition protests over Venezuela's disputed presidential election have killed seven people, officials said as both sides mobilized supporters nationwide for new demonstrations.
Capriles says he defeated President-elect Nicolas Maduro at Sunday's election, and had planned a peaceful march to the offices of the electoral authority to present the opposition's demands for a full vote recount.
Maduro had earlier said the march was banned, and that the opposition wanted to cause a coup d'etat.
Capriles has demanded a full recount of votes from Sunday's election after results showed a narrow victory for late President Hugo Chávez's hand-picked successor, Nicolás Maduro.
The election authority has ruled out a recount, raising fears of more violence in the country which has huge oil reserves but also one the highest crime rates and an economy in shambles. The highly politicized country saw waves of street protests during various parts of Chávez's tumultuous 14-year populist rule.
The deaths happened on Monday when hundreds of protesters took to the streets in various parts of the capital Caracas and other cities, blocking streets, burning tires and fighting with security forces in some cases. Pots and pans banging was extensive and could be heard across the capital.
Officials also said 135 people were arrested in the post-election violence. State media and officials said the fatalities included two people shot by opposition sympathizers while celebrating Maduro's victory in a middle-class area of Caracas.
One person died in an attack on a government-run clinic in a central state. Two, including a policeman, were killed in an Andean border state, officials said.
We will defeat this violent fascism with democracy, said Foreign Minister Elias Jaua, describing incidents and showing video footage to a group of ambassadors. Those who attempt to take with force what they could not acquire through elections are not democrats.
After Sunday's vote, Capriles refused to recognize the results and his followers poured into the streets. In Caracas on Monday night opposition supporters banged pots and pans, and Maduro backers responded with fireworks and music, but the demonstrations then turned violent.
In a wealthy district of Caracas, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets in a battle running into Monday evening with masked, rock-wielding opposition supporters. Motorcyclists drove in circles around a pile of burning trash along the capital's principal highway.
Capriles said his team's figures show he won the election and he wants a full recount. The National Electoral Council said an audit of 54% of the voting stations, in a widely respected electronic vote system, had already been carried out.
Where are the opposition politicians who believe in democracy? Maduro said, blaming Capriles for the violence.
Capriles, the governor of Miranda state, hopes to highlight the weakness of Maduro's mandate and stir up opposition anger over his charge that the electoral council is biased in favour of the ruling Socialist Party. Senior government figures have raised the possibility of legal action against Capriles.
Fascist Capriles, I will personally ensure you pay for the damage you are doing to our fatherland and people, National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello said on Twitter, saying he would seek a criminal investigation by state prosecutors.
But the opposition leader said he will fight on. We are not going to ignore the will of the people. We believe we won ... we want this problem resolved peacefully, Capriles told a news conference. There is no majority here, there are two halves.
Opposition sources said their count showed Capriles won by more than 300,000 votes.
His team said it has evidence of some 3.200 irregularities on Election Day, from voters using fake IDs to intimidation of volunteers at polling centres. It sought an exhaustive check of the paper-ballots printed at the time of casting a vote.
Maduro, who had initially said he was open to a recount, called on his supporters to demonstrate all week. The official results showed him winning by 265,000 votes.