Venezuela gears up for Sunday election

By Danielle Wiener-Bronner
April 11, 2013

Venezuela’s presidential candidates prepare for weekend elections, North Korea tones down the bluster, and Syria is reluctant to permit chemical weapons probe. Today is Thursday, April 11, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.

Venezuelan opposition candidate Henrique Capriles greets supporters in front of a campaign poster of Venezuela’s acting president and presidential candidate Nicolas Maduro during a campaign rally in the state of Merida, April 10, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Election day cometh. Venezuelans will choose Chavez’s successor on Sunday, marking the end of a fierce presidential race between acting President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Henrique Capriles. As Hugo Chavez’s chosen heir, Maduro has capitalized on public mourning, while Capriles tries to reassure the public that his opponent’s bizarre threats won’t come true:

During a bitter, lightning campaign punctuated by highly personalized attacks from both candidates, Maduro has stressed his close ties to Chavez at every turn. He even said he was visited by the late leader’s spirit in the form a little bird. In another surreal turn, Maduro also warned anyone thinking of voting for his rival that they would bring down a centuries-old curse upon themselves, playing on the fertile mix of animist and Christian beliefs in Venezuela’s plains and jungles.

Throughout the campaign, Maduro played up his modest roots and vowed to stem corruption in Venezuela’s government, while Capriles ran on a pro-business, pro-welfare spending platform. The new president will have to contend with the legacy of Chavez, whose status has been elevated further since his death in early March. Venezuelan pollsters predict that Capriles will need a last-minute surge in order to defeat Maduro. The U.S. is watching the election closely, hoping to repair ties with the oil-rich country.

Waning drums of war. South Korea and the U.S. are on high alert for a possible missile launch from North Korea, although the North has toned down threats of war as Monday’s national celebration of founder Kim Il-sung approaches:

North Korea has stationed as many as five medium-range missiles on its east coast, according to defense assessments made by Washington and Seoul, possibly in readiness for a test launch that would demonstrate its ability to hit U.S. bases on Guam.

It is unknown whether the missiles have been tested or if they could reach as far as Guam. Taiwan urged its citizens to refrain from travel to South Korea, the first country to issue such a warning in response to rising tensions. Still, Seoul reported increased tourism in March and no disturbance to financial markets. John Kerry will visit Seoul on Friday as part of his first trip to the region as secretary of state. (Don’t miss North Korean propaganda captured by Reuters photographers.)

Syria blocks chemical weapons investigation. The U.N. and Syria cannot agree on the scope of an investigation into whether chemical weapons were used in Syria last month, according to U.N. diplomats:

Syria has asked the United Nations only to investigate what it says was a rebel chemical attack near Aleppo last month. The opposition has blamed President Bashar al-Assad’s forces for that strike and also wants the U.N. team to look into other alleged chemical attacks by the government. There have been three alleged chemical weapons attacks – the one near Aleppo and another near Damascus, both in March, and one in Homs in December. The rebels and Assad’s government blame each other for all of them.

Syria is only allowing the U.N. to investigate its second-largest city Aleppo, however Western officials want the U.N. to investigate Homs as well.

Nota Bene: Five women were detained on Thursday for wearing prayer shawls at the Western Wall, an act that Orthodox tradition sees as solely for men.

Standouts:

Uruguay equality - Uruguay becomes the second country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage. (The Guardian)

Rabbinic row - France’s top rabbi quits amid plagiarism scandal. (BBC)

Django denied - China pulled Django Unchained from theaters, even after toning down violent scenes. (The New York Times)

The executioner’s tale - Time speaks with one of Yemen’s government hitmen. (Time)

Putin’s biker ties - Finland apologizes for placing Putin on a secret blacklist over his ties to a motorcycle club. (RT)

From the File:

  • At least 45 die in shelling, executions in Syrian town: activists
  • Former nuclear negotiator joins Iran’s presidential race
  • Britain snubs Argentina’s Fernandez over Thatcher funeral
  • Egypt parliament approves revamped election law
  • Palestinian president under pressure to back Fayyad

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