Mon, Aug 23, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Venezuelan officials deny charges of vote tampering

AP , CARACAS

A spot audit of last Sunday's recall vote in Venezuela, which favored keeping President Hugo Chavez in office, found no evidence of fraud, as the opposition had charged, electoral officials said Saturday.

But the opposition rejected the results, demanding a blanket audit of all voting machines.

"The results of the audit were very positive ... allowing us to turn the page," National Electoral Council (CNE) director Jorge Rodriguez declared.

Observer teams from the Carter Center and the Organization of American States had given a clean bill of health to last Sunday's referendum but requested the audit in a bid to ease concerns amid claims by the opposition that the vote was rigged.

The opposition had refused to participate in the recount of 150 ballot boxes chosen at random, and rejected the results as "unreliable."

"We are talking about sustained electronic fraud that circumvented the will of the people," said Asdrubal Aguiar, spokesman for the Democratic Coordinator opposition coalition that claimed 25 percent of the voting machines were rigged.

Aguiar said the coalition had "sufficiently serious proof to justify a blanket recount that will demonstrate that irregularities were committed during the referendum."

But Rodriguez said machine tampering was impossible, because the voting machines had been designed to stop working if anyone had tried to manipulate the software.

Rodriguez also said the auditing report would be "drafted jointly by professionals from the Carter Center, professionals from the OAS, professionals from other international observer missions and professionals of the CNE and will be released early next week."

"We hope that the people understand, and will feel that the electoral officials have an obligation to strive for elections in which all participate and feel that their votes are counted," he said.

Official results show that Chavez garnered 59 percent (5.5 million) of the ballots in the recall, while the opposition won 41 percent (3.8 million) after 96 percent of the votes had been counted.

Chavez and the opposition agreed to abide by the results of the recall as an alternative to two years of violence that had preceded a May 2003 agreement brokered by the OAS and Carter Center.

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