Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela election: Chavez and Capriles contest poll

People in Venezuela have voted in what is predicted to be the country's most tightly contested presidential election in a decade.

Left-wing incumbent Hugo Chavez, first elected in 1998, is being challenged by opposition leader Henrique Capriles.

Mr Chavez wants to continue what he calls his socialist revolution while Mr Capriles has promised to restore economic growth.

Almost 19 million Venezuelans are eligible to vote in the election.

Turnout has been high and voting was extended beyond the official closing time of 18:00 (22:30 GMT) at some polling stations where big queues formed.

Mr Chavez - who is seeking a fourth term in office - was diagnosed with cancer last year but says he has now fully recovered.

As he cast his ballot in Caracas, Mr Chavez said the results of the elections should be respected.

"Let's support the results and let's support the people and let's support this democracy and the Venezuelan republic will continue on its path of growth," he said.

Mr Capriles also voted in Caracas, saying that no matter what the outcome, Mr Chavez was the first person he would call once the results were announced.

A colourful and often controversial figure on the international stage, President Chavez, 58, has nationalised key sectors of the economy.

Venezuela is a major oil producer and high oil prices over the past decade have allowed his government to fund health-care, education programmes and social housing.

He says he needs another term to complete his "Bolivarian Revolution" towards socialism.

However, Mr Capriles, 40, and the opposition say the president's policies have led to bureaucracy, inefficiency and shortages.

They also accuse Mr Chavez of authoritarianism, and of suppressing the judiciary and silencing critics in the media.

Social media

BBC Mundo correspondents in the capital Caracas say Chavez loyalists have been using trumpets to sound a "wake-up" call for voters.

Mr Capriles' supporters were also banging pots in the street in what they called their "goodbye song" for Mr Chavez, our correspondents say.

Defence Minister Henry Rangel Silva said the armed forces had identified some groups planning to cause public disturbances but said violence was "unlikely", the state news agency AVN reported.

He also warned those who he said may be thinking of stirring up trouble that troops were on stand-by to quell any disturbances.

Queues formed early outside schools used as polling stations.

Gerardo Montemarano, who was already waiting to vote when the polls opened, brought a chair with him. "I knew there was going to be a long queue," he told the BBC.

About 100,000 Venezuelans, including about 2,000 in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, are registered to vote at diplomatic outposts around the world.

Hundreds of opposition supporters gathered outside the consulate in central London as expatriates cast their ballots.

"I don't support this government," said voter Rebecca Anaya. "I am here because I cannot live in that country. The security situation is the worst thing in the world."

Both candidates have been using social media to urge voters to cast their ballots.

A week before the election, three opposition activists were killed during a campaign rally, while four people were injured in a shooting during a voting rehearsal in September.

From Saturday evening to Monday evening, the sale of alcohol has been banned and only the security forces will be allowed to carry arms.