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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Celebrates Re-Election

Venezuelan election officials say President Chavez has won re-election with more than 60 percent of Sunday's vote. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Caracas, Mr. Chavez' main opponent has conceded defeat, but suggests his quest might continue, in the streets.

A deluge of rain soaked Venezuela's capital, but did nothing to dampen the spirits of euphoric backers of President Chavez, who packed a Caracas plaza in front of the presidential palace to hear their triumphant leader speak.

"Long live the Venezuelan people! Long live the socialist revolution! Long live Bolivar! Long live our popular victory!" said the Venezuelan leader.

Mr. Chavez said voters had elected themselves, saying he is an instrument of the people. He dedicated his victory, in part, to ailing Cuban President Fidel Castro, and said Venezuelans had struck a blow against the imperialism of the United States.

The president spoke after the head of Venezuela's National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, announced near-complete results.

"For candidate Hugo Chavez: 5.9 million votes. For candidate Manuel Rosales: 3.8million votes," said Lucena.

Within seconds of the announcement, a barrage of fireworks exploded in the skies over the capital and continued late into the night.

A somber but resolute Manuel Rosales, who temporarily stepped down as a state governor to pursue the presidency, thanked his supporters and conceded defeat. But he insisted Mr. Chavez' margin of victory was much smaller than the official figure released by election officials.

"Today we are beginning the fight for the construction of a new era for Venezuela," he said. "I will be in the streets, because the results from the National Electoral Council are not accurate. The real difference in the vote was much smaller. I will continue in the streets fighting for the Venezuelan people, fighting for democracy."

Venezuelan Information Minister Willian Lara dismissed any suggestion that official voting results were inaccurate.

"As far as I am concerned, the figures from the National Electoral Council reflect the reality of how Venezuelans voted," he said. "And, they are not surprising because polls released during the campaign showed similar numbers - that a majority of the country was behind the president."

Mr. Chavez - who has ruled since 1998 and survived both a short-lived coup attempt in 2002 and a recall referendum in 2004 - now has another six-year mandate to govern. He has promised to launch a new phase of his so-called "Bolivarian Revolution" but provided few details as to what, specifically, he intends to do.