The United States is withholding judgment on the contested results of the recall referendum for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The State Department says allegations of fraud by Chavez opponents should be fully investigated.
The State Department congratulated the people of Venezuela for what it said was their extraordinary civic spirit in turning out in such large numbers and waiting in lines, in many cases for hours, to cast their votes in the referendum.
But it is withholding judgment on the results and the conduct of the voting until final official figures are announced by the country's National Election Commission and verdicts are heard from international monitors from the Organization of American States and the U.S.-based Carter Center.
President Chavez is celebrating victory based on figures he said showed 58-percent of those voting opposing his recall. But opposition leaders claim they won the referendum by about the same margin and are alleging widespread fraud.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Thomas Casey said the idea behind the referendum was to provide a solution to Venezuela' long-running political crisis, and he said it is important that any allegations of fraud be investigated fully and transparently:
"Certainly, though, it is essential for this process to be positive, that there be full transparency in addressing any of the concerns that might arise concerning the referendum process," he said. "Because the vote is part of a larger process of national reconciliation, and certainly any allegation of fraud, including those that are being raised now by the opposition need to be fully investigated by the proper authorities in Venezuela, and we will certainly be looking for that to happen."
Diplomats from the U.S. embassy in Caracas also observed the recall election but not as official monitors. Mr. Casey said the voting process was relatively calm and peaceful.
The spokesman said that all along, in the controversy-ridden petition process leading up to the referendum, the United States had urged the sides in Venezuela to refrain from violence. He said it would certainly would not want to see, and would not support, any kind of violent reaction to the referendum itself.
The Bush administration has had a difficult relationship with Mr. Chavez, who has close ties with Cuban President Fidel Castro and has been a strong critic of U.S. policy in Iraq and elsewhere.
The United States had raised concern about incidents of harassment and intimidation of Chavez opponents in the run-up to the voting and said last week the Chavez government had a special responsibility to ensure a free and fair election.