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Venezuela opposition leaders claim win in congressional elections

Opposition leaders are claiming their coalition has won control of Venezuela's legislature from the ruling Socialists for the first time in 16 years. The national electoral board is yet to make a statement.

Turnout was high and some polling stations were kept open after the official closing time on Sunday, to give people standing in line time to vote.

Within hours, opposition leader Henrique Capriles (photo), prominent rights activist Lilian Tintori, and another opposition leader who asked not to be identified, told the Reuters news agency that the Democratic Unity coalition had gained a majority in the 167-member National Assembly.

As the opposition candidates made their comments late Sunday, the state National Electoral Council (CNE) had yet to release results. There was no official comment from President Nicolas Maduro's government.

"The results are as we hoped. Venezuela has won. It's irreversible," tweeted Capriles, a former presidential candidate:

'Democracy must reign'

Several opposition sources told Reuters they believed the coalition had won around 100 seats in the legislature. If confirmed, it would be the first time in 16 years that the opposition would control parliament. It would give conservatives influence over the budget and power to seek amnesty for jailed activists, including Leopoldo Lopez, the husband of Tintori.

"We know we've won, we don't know what the government is going to do," Tintori said in a video. "More than 100 legislators, I'm so happy."

During the day, President Maduro, who had vowed to take to the streets if his party lost, changed his tone: "In Venezuela, peace and democracy must reign. I've said we'll take the fight to the streets, but maybe I was wrong," he said on Sunday.

Economic woes

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Crucial elections in Venezuela

The election was held for all 167 seats of the National Assembly. Maduro's ruling United Socialist Party was facing the Democratic Unity coalition, which represents most opposition parties.

A serious challenge to the left-wing government was widely expected, following two years of recession, spiraling inflation and product shortages that many Venezuelans blame on Maduro.

The vote took place exactly 17 years to the day that former leader, the late Hugo Chavez, was elected president for the first time. He died in 2013.

jm/nm (Reuters, AFP)

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