LIMA, Peru — Venezuelan President-elect Nicolas Maduro won a collective show of support from South American leaders early on Friday in Lima as his plans to widen an audit of electronic votes helped calm tensions over the disputed election.
The last-minute meeting of the regional group Unasur ended in Peru hours before Maduro's scheduled swearing in ceremony in Caracas.
Protests erupted in Venezuela after Maduro won Sunday's election by about 2 percentage points, and the government says eight people have been killed in opposition-led protests.
Responding to demands by Maduro's rival Henrique Capriles for a recount, Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE) said late on Thursday it would audit the 46 percent of electronic votes that remain unchecked. An audit of more than half of votes was carried out on voting day.
"We welcome the decision of the CNE to implement a system that permits a full audit of election results," Unasur said in an official declaration in which it congratulated Maduro on his victory and called on both sides to "reject violent acts that put the social peace of the country at risk".
Maduro had blamed the United States for casting doubt on the result. He was named by late President Hugo Chavez, a self-styled socialist who died of cancer in March, as his chosen successor.
Washington has not recognized the election result, while the European Union had suggested Venezuelan authorities consider an audit of the vote.
The governments of Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, and Argentina, among others, had recognized Maduro's victory before the summit.
But two of the more moderate countries — Peru and Brazil — were especially concerned about growing polarization in Venezuela and how it might hurt governance, diplomats and lawmakers said.
Leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales, who was a close ally of Chavez, said Washington had no right to question the legitimacy of Maduro's victory because former President George W. Bush was re-elected by a similarly narrow margin in 2004.
"This is clearly meddling," Morales said on Thursday. "We condemn this and repudiate it. We won't permit that Bolivia or Latin America be treated as the U.S. government's backyard."
U.S. VOTE DISPUTE
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers on Wednesday he favored a recount because of possible voting irregularities.
Maduro's supporters have defended his victory with repeated references to the 2000 U.S. election dispute, when the U.S. Supreme Court halted a recount in Florida and Bush was declared the winner in the state by just 537 votes.
Peruvian Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, who was a fierce critic of Chavez, urged international observers to scrutinize the results to "stop the authoritarian drift that seems to be underway."
Peru holds the rotating presidency of Unasur and the group's election monitors have said Maduro's win was legitimate.
Most of the leaders, including Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, will now head to Venezuela for the swearing-in ceremony.
Capriles, the opposition candidate, says his team's figures show he won. He immediately accepted the CNE's decision, even though it falls short of the manual recount that he had wanted, and said he believed the truth would come out.
"We have identified where the problems are. With this, we're where we want to be," he told a news conference in Caracas. He also called on the government to stop "persecuting" his supporters.
The CNE said it would announce the date for the start of the wider audit next week. Maduro's allies had argued that a recount was unnecessary because the electoral council had already carried out a partial audit.
© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.