December 5, 2007 / 7:37 PM / 12 years ago

Chavez says Venezuela opposition vote win stinks

(Note language in paragraphs 1-3, 11)

CARACAS, Dec 5 (Reuters) - President Hugo Chavez on Wednesday called the Venezuelan opposition’s unprecedented victory in the weekend’s referendum “shit,” signaling the firebrand former soldier was back on the offensive after initially humbly accepting his loss.

The self-styled socialist revolutionary was angry at a local newspaper report saying he had conceded victory in the narrow vote on expanding his powers only after the military pressured him. He called the report “shit,” too.

“It’s calm, so keep it calm,” Chavez said at a news conference in a message to the opposition. “I wish you knew how to manage your victory. But you are already covering it with shit. It’s a shit victory and it’s yours.”

His military chiefs denied at the same event that Chavez acted under their pressure and praised him as a democrat for accepting his two percentage points loss.

Chavez’s return to the attack showed he is likely to be more aggressive with an opposition accustomed to losing soundly in national votes but is now bigger and bolder.

He said winning without a clear margin would have been a “Pyrrhic victory” because he would have relied on too little support to implement the reform. He pledged to try again.

A nascent student movement, willing to hold noisy street protests despite occasional clashes with the president’s security forces and supporters, revitalized the opposition for the campaign against a constitutional overhaul.

High-profile defectors from Chavez’s ranks also reinforced the opposition to his bid to run for reelection indefinitely, pick loyalists over elected regional officials and censor the media in declared emergencies.

The president lost despite activating an oil-financed, state-backed get-out-the-vote machine.

Chavez is popular for a folksy style and often uses spicy language, particularly against the opposition and Washington.

He labels his rivals “lackeys of the empire” and U.S. President George W. Bush the “devil” and a “donkey.” He once called Bush an “asshole.”

Bush applauded Venezuelans for voting against “one-man rule,” but Chavez dismissed Bush’s cheer as the U.S. leader’s false hope.

Giggling, Chavez stopped just short of using an expletive to describe Bush’s reaction. He said it would not have been right to use such language, given that the news conference was being televised, including by U.S. network CNN.

(For more on Venezuela's referendum, click here)

Reporting by Saul Hudson; Editing by Brian Ellsworth and Vicki Allen

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