* Opposition leader to challenge loss in court
* Maduro won April 14 election by narrow margin
By Daniel Wallis and Enrique Andres Pretel
CARACAS, April 27 (Reuters) - Venezuela’s electoral authority said on Saturday the opposition created false hopes about a vote audit being prepared after President Nicolas Maduro’s narrow election win, adding that his rival had failed to present compelling proof of foul play.
The National Electoral Council had stressed from the start that the “expanded” audit it agreed to after the April 14 vote would not change the results, which made Maduro the successor to the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles says there were thousands of irregularities during the vote, and that his own calculations showed he won. He says he will challenge the outcome in the OPEC nation’s courts.
“We have always insisted that Capriles had the right to challenge the process,” Tibisay Lucena, president of the electoral council, said in a televised national broadcast.
“But it is also his obligation to present proof.”
She dismissed various opposition submissions alleging voting irregularities as lacking key details, and said Capriles had subsequently tried to present the audit in very different terms than the electoral council had agreed to.
“It has been manipulated to generate false expectations about the process, including making it look like the consequence of the wider audit could affect the election results,” she said.
Capriles has said that unless the audit includes all the relevant paperwork from polling centers, his team would not take part in a process that would end up being “a joke.”
He has conceded that his legal challenge to Maduro’s election faces a difficult path through the South American country’s courts. Critics say Chavez packed the judiciary with loyal political appointees during his 14 years in power.
Capriles, a 40-year-old centrist state governor, confounded opinion polls to run a close finish against Maduro in the election, held just five weeks after Chavez’s death from cancer. Capriles lost by less than two percentage points, according to official results.
The government blames Capriles for post-election violence that it says killed nine people, and the “Chavista”-dominated Congress is investigating him in connection with the unrest.
On Saturday, security forces arrested a retired general who is now a senior official with an opposition party and was recorded on video apparently advising rioters during clashes with police in a Caracas square a day after the election.
The opposition said the arrest was “illegal and cowardly.”
The government also has arrested an American citizen it says was financing opposition student protesters to destabilize the country on behalf of an unnamed U.S. intelligence agency.
Relatives and friends of Timothy Hallet Tracy, 34, described him to U.S. media as a documentary-maker who was in Venezuela to make a film about the presidential election.
Some Maduro allies say the violence was proof that the opposition tried to launch a coup, while the opposition accuses the authorities of exaggerating the trouble and counting victims of common crime among its figures.
Both sides have called on their followers to march again on May 1, creating another potential flashpoint.
On Saturday, Maduro was on an official visit to Cuba to strengthen ties between the two countries. Chavez helped support Cuba’s economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Maduro spoke at a tribute where President Raul Castro described Chavez as Cuba’s best friend, and he signed cooperation accords for 51 projects.
Capriles, who accuses Cuba’s Castro brothers of meddling in Venezuela’s affairs, criticized the trip on Twitter.
“The Big Connected-One (Maduro) goes to Havana to receive instructions from his Boss. We always said it, there’s nothing more powerful that the truth!” the opposition leader tweeted. (Editing by Paul Simao)