CARACAS, Venezuela – Supporters and opponents of President Hugo Chavez (search) staged massive rallies in Caracas a week before a recall referendum on his rule, each side confident of victory in the vote.
Polls show the country is split evenly between those for and against Chavez. Supporters see him as a champion of the poor and a new hope after decades of corrupt governments, while opponents accuse him of seeking to install a communist dictatorship.
"In seven days, Venezuelans will have a chance to stop the demon of intolerance, division, unemployment and hunger," opposition leader Enrique Mendoza (search) said during an event with the immigrants.
Chavez followers, clad in red, marched with signs saying "No" to the recall and "Ahead with the Revolution," celebrating what they say is a sure win on the Aug. 15 vote.
A Chavez ally, Freddy Bernal, estimated that attendance at the march reached 900,000. The Caracas fire chief said that it was "well over 100,000."
Chavez spoke to the crowd, saying that his victory next Sunday would be a home run that would "fall on the gardens of the White House."
Chavez, who survived a short-lived coup in 2002, accuses Washington of backing alleged opposition plans to overthrow him. Both the United States and the opposition deny the claims.
The United States is Venezuela's main oil buyer, but relations have been strained due to Chavez's ties with Cuba and his criticism to U.S.-backed free market proposals.
Chavez also said that the polls would be open as long as necessary on Aug. 15 to allow everyone to vote.
"We will stay up all night we will. No one goes home until the last vote is cast," said Chavez.
To be recalled, more citizens must vote against Chavez than the nearly 3.8 million who re-elected him in 2000. If they succeed, elections will be held in 30 days and the winner will finish Chavez's term.
The opposition "wants to recall Chavez because he is not a lap dog for the United States. That is why we, the real patriots, are here, to show Venezuela and the world that Chavez has our support and that Venezuela is and always be a free country under his rule," said Roberto Mendez, a 41-year-old unemployed worker.
On the other side of town, the opposition gathered its followers in a caravan and a concert with rock artists and comedians. Immigrants pledged their support to the opposition in a separate event, dressed in their traditional costumes and bearing their flags.
Also Sunday, The National Elections Council tested the new touch-screen voting machines before members of the opposition and government, and international observers.
Elections council Director Jorge Rodriguez said that the tests had gone well. Valter Pecly Moreira, chief of the mission of the Organization of American States (search) in Venezuela, agreed.
"We hope that everything works on Aug. 15, that the Venezuelan people make their choice and that we have an indisputable result," Moreira said. "Judging by what we've seen today, everything seems to be moving in that direction."