World News

Chavez warns activists of election defeat risk

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, stung by a referendum defeat in December, warned hundreds of red-clad activists on Saturday they risked losing important states and cities in year-end elections.

At a meeting of his newly established Socialist Party, Chavez told delegates from across the oil-producing country the opposition could win refinery towns and border states in state and local elections in November.

“It’s urgent that we consolidate the party.” Chavez said, speaking in front of a large red socialist star. “We are obliged to win these elections and win them well.”

After nine years in power, Chavez still enjoys high approval ratings but said losses in November would damage his government and the reforms he calls a revolution.

“It is a threat against the revolution, something that threatens its permanence, its continuation,” Chavez said.

The United Socialist Party of Venezuela was rushed into existence last year to replace a lose coalition of parties sympathetic to the president. It has many internal divisions.

It failed to rally enough Chavez voters to win a December referendum that would have allowed him to run for reelection indefinitely and granted powers to speed up left wing reforms.

Chavez, a fierce critic of the United States who had never before lost a major vote, was beaten by a revitalized opposition and a student movement opposed to his reform plans.

Most state governors and mayors in the South American country are Chavez allies, but he is worried the opposition could win back power in major oil-producing states.

In 2002, the opposition briefly ousted Chavez in a coup and later shut much of the oil industry in another bid to push him out.

Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel and Deisy Buitrago, editing by Alan Elsner