Opposition holds big rally in Caracas

ANOINTED SUCCESSOR::Polls give acting president Nicolas Maduro a lead of more than 10 percentage points over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles

Reuters, CARACAS

Tue, Apr 09, 2013 - Page 7

Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan opposition supporters rallied in a staunchly pro-government part of the capital on Sunday, answering a call by their candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski and showing strength a week before the presidential election.

“Today, the streets of Caracas are full of happiness and hope, confirming what will happen next Sunday,” Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda State, told the crowd.

He faces acting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who has vowed to continue the hardline socialism of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez if he wins Sunday’s election. Maduro held a huge rally on Sunday in rural Apure State, on the Colombian border.

More often seen filled with the red flags and T-shirts of Chavez’s loyal supporters, the capital’s historic Bolivar Avenue was packed with opposition supporters decked out in the blue, yellow and red of Capriles’ campaign.

“We’re winning this process,” Capriles said, sweating under the hot sun in a burgundy-colored shirt, rosary beads around his neck and a baseball cap in the colors of Venezuela’s flag.

He said that the day following his election victory would be one of peace and reconciliation among all Venezuelans, and he addressed supporters of Maduro’s government directly.

“Those who put on a red shirt today, I just ask you: Open your eyes. I’ll work hard, I’ll shed skin, to win your trust,” he said.

Despite the opposition leader’s optimism, opinion polls give Maduro a lead of more than 10 percentage points.

Opposition supporters marched from different parts of the city to converge on the avenue, where they waved flags, cheered and sang.

Around the edges of the rally, groups of red-clad “Chavista” pro-government supporters chanted in favor of Maduro.

Both candidates are touring the South American country during a lightning, 10-day campaign ahead of Sunday’s vote, which was triggered by Chavez’s death from cancer on March 5. It has been a bitter run-up to the election, with deeply personal attacks and accusations of dirty tricks by both sides.

The race took a somewhat surreal turn on Saturday when Maduro said a centuries-old curse would fall on the heads of those who do not vote for him.

Maduro, 50, was a bus driver and union leader who rose to become Chavez’s foreign minister, then vice president.

At his rallies, he frequently refers to Chavez in adoring terms and plays a video from December last year where the former president endorsed Maduro as his successor.

“He taught us the supreme value of loyalty. With loyalty, everything is possible. Betrayal only brings defeats and curses,” Maduro told cheering supporters on Sunday.

Maduro again accused the opposition of hatching a plot to assassinate him.

He has also accused the US government of planning to kill Capriles and blame it on his government to spark unrest before the election. Washington denied it.

Capriles has ridiculed Maduro’s claims and likened them to Chavez’s frequent denunciations of “imperialist” assassination plots during his 14-year rule.

The opposition says the assassination claims are designed to distract voters from daily problems, such as violent crime, high prices and creaking public services.