Chavez 'would accept' Venezuela election defeat

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez brandishes a gold bar as he addresses the National Assembly in Caracas Mr Chavez defended his decision to repatriate Venezuela's gold reserves

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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has told opposition leaders that he will relinquish power if he loses elections due in October.

In his annual address to Congress, Mr Chavez said the opposition should also accept the result if he wins.

The left-wing leader - who has governed Venezuela for 13 years - is seeking another six-year term in office.

The opposition coalition will hold a primary election next month to choose a unity candidate to stand against him.

Some of Mr Chavez's strongest critics have suggested he might cling on to power at all costs if he were defeated at the polls.

But he told the National Assembly in Caracas that he would accept the election result whatever it was.

"If any of you win the elections I will be the first to recognise it, and I ask the same of you," he told opposition leaders.

"We are going to show our democratic maturity."

Crucial year

Mr Chavez, 57, said he expected 2012 to be a "year of tests" for Venezuela, but he was confident that peace and respect for national institutions would be maintained.

The Venezuelan leader reiterated that he had recovered his health after having surgery and chemotherapy for cancer last year.

Recent opinion polls suggest he still has the support of just over 50% of the population, making him the favourite to win the election.

Heavy spending on housing and welfare - funded by Venezuela's oil wealth - has helped sustain his traditional support base among the poor.

The opposition Democratic Unity coalition is hoping that dissatisfaction with rising violent crime and inflation will help it to unseat him.

Six candidates are standing for a primary election due on 12 February that will chose a unity candidate to challenge Mr Chavez.

Miami shutdown

In his speech, Mr Chavez also announced that he intended to close Venezuela's consulate in Miami after the US expelled a diplomat.

Venezuela's consul in Miami, Livia Acosta Noguera, was ordered to leave the US last week following allegations that she discussed a possible cyber attack on the US while based in Mexico.

Mr Chavez called the accusations against her "unjust" but indicated he would not be expelling a US diplomat in response.

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