CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- President Hugo Chavez won re-election on Sunday, defeating challenger Henrique Capriles, Venezuela's electoral council said.

With most votes counted, Chavez had more than 54 percent of the vote, and Capriles had 45 percent, National Electoral Council president Tibisay Lucena said. She said 81 percent of the nearly 19 million registered voters cast ballots.

It was Chavez's third re-election victory in nearly 14 years in office. The victory gives Chavez another six-year term to cement his legacy and press more forcefully for a transition to socialism in the country with the world's largest proven oil reserves.

Fireworks exploded in downtown Caracas, and Chavez's supporters celebrated waving flags and jumping for joy outside the presidential palace.

Chavez won more than 7.4 million votes, beating Capriles by more than 1.2 million votes, Lucena said.

Just as polls closed, one of hundreds of young red-shirted Chavistas who took to the streets on motorcycles said they were ready to begin celebrating.

"Let them accept defeat," Kleiver Gutierrez said of the opposition.

One pro-Chavez voter, private bodyguard Carlos Julio Silva, said that whatever his faults, Chavez deserves to win for spreading the nation's oil wealth to the poor with free medical care, public housing and other government largess.


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"There is corruption, there's plenty of bureaucracy, but the people have never had a leader who cared about this country," Silva said after voting for Chavez at a school in the Caracas slum of Petare. "That's why the people are going to re-elect Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias."

At many polling places, voters began lining up hours before polls opened at dawn, some snaking blocks in the baking Caribbean sun. Some shaded themselves with umbrellas. Vendors grilled meat and some people drank beer.

Maria Leonis was selling CDs of Chavez's campaign theme music on a sidewalk next to a polling center. "Today I've sold about 100 CDs, just Chavez's song," Leonis said, adding that she supported Chavez because "I want to keep seeing change."

Chavez's critics said the president has inflamed divisions by labeling his opponents "fascists," ''Yankees" and "neo-Nazis," while Chavez's loyalists alleged Capriles would halt generous government programs that assist the poor.

"I'm really tired of all this polarization," said Lissette Garcia, a 39-year-old clothes seller and Capriles supporter who voted in the affluent Caracas district of Las Mercedes.

"I want to reconnect with all my friends who are 'Chavistas.'"

Violence flared sporadically during the campaign, including shootings and rock-throwing during rallies and political caravans. Two Capriles supporters were shot to death in the western state of Barinas last weekend.

Troops guarded thousands of voting centers across the country.

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