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Opposition challenges Chavez's heir

Venezuela’s opposition leader joins election race vowing to challenge Chavez’s preferred successor.

Venezuela’s opposition leader joins election race vowing to challenge Chavez’s preferred successor. Picture: AFP

CARACAS - Venezuela's opposition leader vowed on Sunday to fight late Hugo Chavez's preferred successor for the presidency next month and the pair quickly locked horns in an angry war of words.

Henrique Capriles, a 40-year-old state governor, will face election favourite and acting President Nicolas Maduro. The pair must register their candidacies for the April 14 vote on Monday.

The election will decide whether Chavez's self-styled socialist and nationalist revolution will live on in the country with the world's largest proven oil reserves.

"I am going to fight," Capriles said at a news conference. "Nicolas, I am not going to give you a free pass. You will have to beat me with votes."

Former Vice President Maduro, 50, a husky one-time bus driver and union leader turned politician who echoes Chavez's anti-imperialist rhetoric, is expected to win comfortably, according to two recent polls.

Maduro pushed for a snap election to cash in on a wave of empathy triggered by Chavez's death Tuesday at age 58 after a two-year battle with cancer. He was sworn in as acting president on Friday to the fury of Capriles.

"You have used the body of the president for political campaigning," Capriles said of Maduro on Saturday, triggering an angry rebuke.

Maduro accused Capriles of sowing hate.

"You wretched loser!" Maduro said of Capriles in a televised speech. "You have shown your true face - that of a fascist."

Capriles, the centrist Miranda state governor who often wears a baseball cap and tennis shoes, lost to Chavez in October. But he won 44 percent of the vote - the strongest showing by the opposition against Chavez.

Capriles has accused the government and Supreme Court of fraud for letting Maduro campaign without stepping down.

Opposition supporters were trying to raise their spirits despite the odds.

"There's no reason to think that the opposition is condemned to defeat," Teodoro Petkoff, an anti-government newspaper editor, said on his Sunday talk show.

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