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June 29, 2017

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Chavez pledges to work with opposition after election win

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Hugo Chavez pledged to become a "better president" and work with the opposition after winning a tough re-election battle that betrayed simmering discontent at his socialist revolution.

The leftist president's victory was a relief to like-minded allies in the region, with Cuban leader Raul Castro hailing his friend's "historic triumph," while the United States urged him to listen to the opposition.

After almost 14 years in power, Chavez survived cancer and the most formidable opponent of his presidency, youthful business leader and former state governor Henrique Capriles, to win another six-year term.

The anti-U.S. firebrand vowed to deepen his oil-funded socialist revolution after hailing his "perfect" victory.

But he also reached out to disenchanted voters by pledging to work with the opposition, a tacit acceptance that this was a narrower victory than in the past and that Venezuela is a country very much divided.

"I want to include everybody, including sectors of the opposition," Chavez, wearing his trademark red shirt, told thousands of cheering supporters from the balcony of his Miraflores presidential residence.

"I commit to being a better president than I've been these past few years," the 58-year-old leader said. Alluding to his cancer battle, he said: "I thank God and ask him for life and health to keep serving the Venezuelan people."

The political veteran also held his hand out directly to his opponent. "Believe me: I had a friendly phone chat with Henrique Capriles! I invited him to work for national unity, respecting our differences!" he wrote on Twitter.

A short time later, a less effusive Capriles wrote: "I received a phone call from President Chavez. In the name of more than 6,500,000 Venezuelans I made a call for national unity and respect for everyone," he wrote.

The United States and the European Union urged Chavez to extend a hand to the opposition.

"We have our differences with President Chavez," White House spokesman Jay Carney told journalists. "But we congratulate the Venezuelan people" on the peaceful manner in which the election was carried out, he added.

"We believe that the views of the more than six million people who voted for the opposition should be taken into account going forward," said William Ostick, a U.S. State Department spokesman.

The fate of Chavez, a fierce U.S. critic and the leading voice of Latin America's left, was closely watched by communist ally Cuba, which heavily depends on Venezuela's oil, and other regional partners.

Castro pledged Cuba's "solidarity and unbreakable support," while Bolivian President Evo Morales called his fellow leftist's triumph "a victory for the Bolivarian alliance and all of Latin America."

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