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Venezuela leader, rivals take battle on the road

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 8, 2013 at 7:21 pm •  Published: May 8, 2013

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and his Argentine counterpart and ally, Cristina Fernandez, announced new energy and food agreements Wednesday, then Maduro cheered supporters of Argentina's president with a rousing speech at a soccer-stadium rally.

Maduro said their two countries are more closely aligned than ever despite the deaths of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and of Nestor Kirchner, Fernandez's husband who preceded her in the presidency.

"Hugo Chavez Frias and Nestor Kirchner! I feel them hear, more alive than ever!" Maduro said to wide applause.

It was the high point of a regional trip meant to shore up support after Maduro narrowly won an election challenged as fraudulent by his opponent, Henrique Capriles. The disputed outcome and related violence have Venezuelans even more polarized, and Maduro is looking to shore up friends amid questions about the sustainability of the petrodollar diplomacy Chavez spread around the region.

Maduro met earlier with President Jose Mujica in Montevideo. The Uruguayan leader gave Maduro, who will inherit Mercosur's rotating presidency in June, a boost when he said Venezuela's presence in the trade group is very important. After Argentina, Maduro was heading to Brazil.

Fernandez mobilized "Organized and United," a coalition of pro-government groups that reliably delivers supporters to political rallies, to put on the stadium gathering.

She also announced 11 accords promising more cooperation on energy, technology, transportation and food. Without giving details, Fernandez also said that she and Maduro made progress on new deals between their state-controlled oil companies.

But Maduro's Venezuelan opponents also have gathered at every stop along the way, denouncing him as a threat to democracy.

While Fernandez was sending busloads to fill the 21,500-seat All Boys stadium, his rivals were calling for protesters to gather at Argentina's iconic obelisk. Venezuelan opposition lawmakers also met with their counterparts in Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Colombia, lamenting together the lack of criticism from the region's presidents.

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