THOUSANDS of opposition supporters have crammed Caracas streets banging pots, burning rubbish bags and chanting "fraud" to protest the confirmation of late leader Hugo Chavez's political heir as president.
The demonstration erupted as the National Electoral Council (CNE) certified the victory of acting President Nicolas Maduro against opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who refused to concede defeat and demanded a full recount.
At one spot, police dispersed a group of protesters with tear gas.
"We are here because they stole our vote. They cheated us," said 60-year-old Selma Orjuela as she banged a pot. "We need Capriles to be president. That's why we voted, and we are sure we won."
Across town, the CNE handed the certified results to Maduro, saying he defeated Capriles 50.75 per cent to 48.97 per cent - a difference of 265,000 votes.
The final score was about 30,000 votes wider than initial results said, but it was still the opposition's best score against "Chavismo" in the 14 years that it has dominated the nation, which sits on the world's largest oil reserves.
"I am the son of Chavez," Maduro said. "I am the first Chavista president after Hugo Chavez Frias, and I will fulfill his legacy to protect the poor, to protect our independence."
Maduro, 50, also accused the opposition of having a "coup mentality," seeking to steer the country into political limbo, to unfairly wrest control of his hard-won political power.
With the United States and the Organisation of American States (OAS) backing his demand for a recount, Capriles had urged protests if Maduro was proclaimed "illegitimate president."
While Maduro did not reject the idea of some partial recounting, others in his government flatly rejected the idea of a full vote-by-vote, ballot-box-by-ballot-box effort as Capriles sought.
And CNE president Tibisay Lucena appeared to draw a clear line. She said the opposition could use "the legal path" instead of "threats" if it wants to contest the result, citing the 2000 US election that was decided by the Supreme Court.
Capriles urged Venezuelans to bang their kitchen pots and pans - a popular Latin American form of protest known as a "cacerolazo" - to "let the world know our outrage, our anger."
The 40-year-old state governor also called on Venezuelans to peacefully protest in front of CNE offices on Tuesday to demand a full recount.
The OAS backed calls for a recount, while the White House said a full recount would be an "important, prudent and necessary step".
"In our view, rushing to a decision in these circumstances would be inconsistent with the expectations of Venezuelans for a clear and democratic outcome," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Around the world, Chavez's closest allies - from Cuba to Ecuador and Russia - congratulated their friend's handpicked political heir, one month after the charismatic leader lost his battle with cancer aged 58. So did neighbours Brazil and Colombia.
Both candidates had pledged during the campaign to recognise the result.
But Capriles - who accepted defeat when Chavez beat him by 11 points in October polls - said he had a list of some 3200 "incidents" that took place during this vote.
Under the constitution, a recall referendum can be called after the third year of a presidency if 20 per cent of voters' signatures are gathered.