bolivar | 16.08.2004 20:40 | Venezuela
Last Updated: Monday, 16 August, 2004, 19:52 GMT 20:52 UK
Observers back Venezuela vote
Former US President Jimmy Carter has endorsed official results showing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez won Sunday's vote to remain in office.
Mr Carter said his team of observers had also concluded there was a "clear difference in favour" of Mr Chavez.
He was speaking after opposition claims of massive fraud in the referendum. They have called a protest in Caracas.
The head of the Organisation of American States also said his monitors had not found "any element of fraud".
The endorsement of the international observers though will make it difficult for the opposition to take their grievances much further, says the BBC's James Menendez in Caracas.
The rest of the international community is likely to take its cue from them and recognise President Chavez's success, our correspondent says.
Mr Carter and Mr Gaviria held a joint press conference hours after the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE) said that, with 94% of ballots counted, Mr Chavez had 58% of the vote.
"Our findings coincided with the partial returns announced today by the National Elections Council," said Mr Carter.
He said his Carter Center and the OAS had jointly conducted quick counts of the results of the vote.
"We have found the information from that quick count was almost exactly the same as that presented" by the CNE, the former US leader said.
"More than 10 million people voted and there is a clear difference in favour of the government of President Chavez," he told reporters.
The OAS Secretary General endorsed the statement, adding: "We have not found any element of fraud in the process.
"Until elements of fraud emerge we are not going put the results in doubt."
President Chavez claimed a "victory for the Venezuelan people" after the release of results putting him a clear 16 points ahead of his opponents.
A spokesman for the Democratic Co-ordinator opposition coalition, Henry Ramos Allup, said fraud and "gross manipulation" had taken place.
"We categorically reject the results," he said.
The opposition has called for a massive rally in the capital, with protesters blocking a highway and streets in the eastern part, AFP news agency reports.
Mr Carter urged them to accept the result and to "work together for the future".
Venezuela was polarised by the surprise victory of Mr Chavez - Venezuela's first president from an indigenous heritage - in presidential elections in 1998.
His opponents, who are mostly white, middle-class and control most of the media and business, say he is authoritarian and has managed a rich economy badly.
Despite the country's oil wealth, 80% of Venezuelans are poor but Mr Chavez has won the hearts of many with extensive school and health programmes, analysts say.
The opposition has fought a tireless campaign to see him ousted. Mr Chavez survived a short-lived coup in April 2002 and a two-month strike that badly damaged the economy later that year.
The referendum was activated after the opposition collected signatures from 20% of the population - a recall mechanism inserted into the Venezuelan constitution by Mr Chavez in 1999.
If his victory is confirmed, it will be the eighth time Mr Chavez has won public approval of his rule and his policies, after two presidential elections and six referendums.
Observers say this referendum is unlikely to put an end to the conflict. They warn that in fevered Venezuela violence is never far away.