|Chavez wins 6 more years in office||
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has once again defied his doubters by winning a new term of office in the presidential election after what had been billed as the closest race of his political life.
To the euphoria of supporters in and around his campaign headquarters, the National Electoral Council announced on Sunday the president had secured 54.4% of the votes, while his rival Henrique Capriles was behind with 44.9%. Some votes were still to be counted, but the council said the result was not in doubt.
The new six-year term clears the way for Chavez to consolidate state control over Venezuela's economy, possibly with more nationalizations, and continue his support for left-wing allies in Latin America and around the world, Reuters reported.
The victory also cements his status as a dominant figure in modern Latin American history and an icon of the political left.
Tens of thousands of ecstatic supporters celebrated in the streets around the presidential palace in downtown Caracas over Sunday night, pumping fists in the air after the former soldier was re-elected with 1.5 million more votes than rival.
"This has been the perfect battle, a democratic battle," the 58-year-old Chavez thundered from the palace balcony around midnight, holding up a replica of the sword of independence hero Simon Bolivar.
"Venezuela will continue along the path of democratic and Bolivarian socialism of the 21st century."
It was an extraordinary victory for a leader who just a few months ago feared for his life as he struggled to recover from cancer. Turnout was a record 80 percent of registered voters, boosting Chavez's democratic credentials despite critics' depiction of him as an autocrat who tramples on private enterprise and silences political foes.
Supporters dripping with sweat strained to catch a glimpse of Chavez from the street below the palace while dancing and drinking rum. "Chavez, the people are with you!" they chanted.
"He will keep protecting the poor, the defenseless and the elderly," said teacher Gladys Montijo, 54, weeping with joy.
In a nod to the opposition's strong showing, Chavez struck a conciliatory note and promised to be more focused in his new term beginning on January 10.
"Today we start a new cycle of government, in which we must respond with greater efficacy and efficiency to the needs of our people," he said. "I promise you I'll be a better president."
Despite Chavez's anti-capitalist rhetoric, Venezuelan bonds are among the most-traded emerging market debt on Wall Street because they offer high yields. But Chavez's victory pushed prices lower on Monday as investors unwound bets that Capriles would pull off an upset.
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