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Venezuela's Chavez sweeps to victory in regional ballot

The leftist leader consolidates his political power two months after winning a referendum aimed to oust him. His party now controls the strategic Caraca's administration and five new states. In Chile, the center-left ruling coalition also obtained an important victory in a key election.

"The revolution is here to stay. There's no turning back", said Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez to a cheering crowd early on Monday, shortly after it became known that his political force had scored another stunning victory, this time in the regional elections. By capturing the strategic greater Caracas mayor's post and at least five more states from opponents, Chavez consolidates his political power as deepens the crisis among his foes two months after winning a referendum aimed to oust him.

The National Electoral Council director Jorge Rodriguez confirmed partial results showed supporters of the former army officer as the winning force in the ballots, in an election which did not draw the attention of many Venezuelans. Chavez, a charismatic leftist leader first elected in 1998, has vowed to strengthen his social, land and education reforms for the poor after ousting opposition governors and mayors whom he accuses of backing a brief 2002 coup against him.

"We knew what was coming. It's one more day of victory, one more victory for the people," Chavez told cheering supporters early Monday morning. Still bruised by their referendum defeat, opposition parties battled voter apathy and splits among their candidates as they competed for more than 600 governorships, state council seats and municipal offices in the world's No. 5 oil exporter.
 
Initial results showed Chavez candidates won 18 out of 22 governorship races, including the strategic Miranda state. Chavez candidates were slightly ahead in Carabobo and Yaracuy states. But the opposition managed to defend Zulia where much of the oil industry is based and capture Nueva Esparta, which covers Margarita Island. A pro-government candidate also won the key greater Caracas mayor's office while the opposition kept its district mayoral offices in the wealthier parts of the capital.

President Lagos also strengthened after Chile's elections

Voters gave strong support to the center-left government of President Ricardo Lagos on Sunday in nationwide municipal elections seen as a crucial test ahead of next year's presidential race.

According to available official information, with 81.4 percent of some 7 million votes cast for 2,144 city council members officially counted, the pro-government Coalition for
Democracy had 48.01 percent to 37.73 percent for the opposition Alliance for Chile.

Even when the election showed a preference of Chileans for the center-left ruling coalition, the results in the Capital leave open a door for the rightist candidate, Joaquin Lavin, who aims to take over presidency from Lagos in the 2005 race.

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