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Polls Close in Venezuela Legislative Elections

Voting has ended in Venezuela for legislative elections in which the ruling Socialist Party is seeking to fend off a challenge from opposition candidates.

Venezuelan election officials began tallying ballots from Sunday's legislative vote, as polling stations closed across the country. Voting sites in Caracas and many other areas closed as scheduled at 6:00 p.m. local time. But election officials reported delays in Carabobo and Vargas states, near the capital, where polling stations stayed open late.

The head of the National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, said officials resolved problems in those areas and that no voters were turned away.

She added that other than minor problems with the nation's electronic voting system, the elections were a success.

Lucena said the vote was peaceful. She praised Venezuelans for fulfilling their civic duty to turn out and vote for the candidates of their choice.

Voters cast ballots for all of the 165 members of the National Assembly, which is controlled by the Socialist Party of President Hugo Chavez.

The president campaigned heavily for Socialist candidates throughout the country in an attempt to fend off a challenge from opposition parties.

Opposition candidates virtually are assured of expanding their tiny share of seats, after boycotting the previous vote in 2005. It is unclear whether they can win a third of the assembly's seats to block major legislation that requires two-thirds approval.

Many voters say that regardless of the election outcome, they hope to see lawmakers work to resolve major problems such as a rise in violent crime and unemployment.

Official results are expected late Sunday or early Monday.