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Over 14 million citizens, in the presence of 300 international observers from 15 countries, including former heads of state from Latin America, North America, and Europe, will decide whether or not the president should continue his tenure.

Chávez called on his followers to go out in the streets starting at 3 AM, in order to make the lines at the voting centers, which opened at 6:00 AM. His call was followed not only by his enthusiasts, but also by his opponents, who made long lines before the voting centers.

After casting their vote, Chavez’ followers, according to indications by the president himself, will concentrate at the so-called “red spots” of his supporters until the results are announced.

The totality of the automated voting centers had been installed on Saturday night. According to the National Electoral Council (CNE) member Jorge Rodríguez,, 92% of the of the voting tables had begun operating by 8:00 AM. There were some problems with the fingerprint detecting machines, and in several centers, citizens refused to vote without these devices, for fear that their vote would be altered.

After casting his vote, CNE vice-president Ezequiel Zamora expressed his satisfaction for the affluence of Venezuelans to the voting centers, and said that the civic spirit in this date was something worth pointing out. He also commented that if there were still people in line to vote for two days “we would vote for two days” and admitted that the election process was “very quick”.

The armed forces, as part of the Republic Plan (plan designed to safeguard the election process), watch over the voting centers with 118,000 soldiers, all over the country. The government ordered that the municipal and regional police forces remain in their headquarters at the wait of any eventual call for support by the National Guard.

This process is unprecedented for Venezuelans and for the rest of the world, including the new right for the military to vote. The military transported the machines and the voting material, took control of the centers, and will be the first to cast their vote when they open them. They will be the last to leave these voting centers, and are in charge of watching over the process, transporting the forms, and keeping the ballot boxes under custody for 45 days.

The border with Colombia has been temporarily closed in order to prevent Colombians or Venezuelans from crossing illegally from one country to the other.

The ex-president of the US, Jimmy Carter, and César Gaviria, secretary of the Organization of American States, said that despite their continuous threats, the opposition leaders agreed not to issue results before the first official CNE bulletin. After being overwhelmed by reporters, Carter declared that today’s electoral results would be more transparent than the last presidential elections in the US, in the state of Florida.

On his part, Gaviria said that whenever there’s a delay in election results, the public begins to feel suspicious, “that’s why we believe that the CNE should emit reports in due time”.

Both opposing parties, the military and the electoral authorities, agreed not to make any declarations about the results. Exit polls in the surroundings of the voting centers will not be allowed.

The ban on alcohol sale and consumption, was made effective from Saturday at noon until Monday at noon. The state oil company, Pdvsa is under strict military surveillance in order to avoid incidents. The electrical and telephone stations are also under custody.

Chávez: Jubilant day

Presidente Chávez indicated a few hours before dawn, that today’s process would be “a jubilant day for participatory democracy, the Constitution, and our people”

Chávez, who has been monitoring the situation of the country since 3:00 AM, expressed his satisfaction for having reached this process in peace. He informed that he had heard reports of sounding of reveille (military-style wake-up calls) and of fireworks throughout the whole country. “My greetings to all the disciplined people who sounded the reveille at 3 o’clock sharp this morning and got up. He who rises before dawn, receives the help of God”, he said.

According to Chávez, the referendum process has aroused interest throughout the world, citing as evidence the interviews he had to give until late last night for important world television networks like Al Jazeera, CNN, and another important European network.

“This is a battle with worldwide importance, with no intention of exaggerating,” , said the president, who confirmed having received calls from the presidents of Argentina and Brazil, Néstor Kirchner and Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, respectively.

Chávez recalled the meeting he held with an important group of international observers, including Roberto Cuellar from Costa Rica, director of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, who was amazed at the voting system installed for this event, especially when compared to other countries in the region.

The international observers also expressed before the head of state their extreme satisfaction for the transparency with which the process id being carried out, and for the incorporation of new voters, thanks to the extraordinary plans executed throughout the entire national territory.