U.S. Cautious on Venezuela Vote Results

The State Department said Tuesday that it acknowledges "the preliminary results of the referendum" that shows that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (search) "received the support of the majority of voters" in Sunday's vote.

At the same time, however, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the United States is still concerned with "issues related to irregularities that are charged" in the election and hopes the government there will address those concerns.

"We call on the National Electoral Council (search) to allow a transparent audit, and make the point that this is important to dealing with these concerns and resolving them is important to national reconciliation," Ereli told reporters.

Chavez won 58 percent of the vote in Sunday's referendum on whether to end his term in office. Some Chavez opponents called for a recount, but others accepted the results and suggested the country move forward.

The United States on Tuesday declined an invitation to congratulate Chavez on holding on to his position.

"We certainly congratulate the people of Venezuela on how they have managed this," Ereli said. "This is about resolving a political crisis, an issue that divided the people of Venezuela. The people of Venezuela have spoken. And for our part, we're prepared to move on."

With results in hand, Chavez on Tuesday worked on increasing his power, including exerting control over the courts, local police and the nation's broadcast stations.

The leftist government is "going to deepen the social and democratic revolution in Venezuela," vowed Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel (search), the right-hand man to Chavez, who is praised by supporters for giving the poor majority better services and a voice in politics.

Among the changes is a bill Chavez plans send to Congress that would allow the government to ban programming it deems slanderous or an incitement to violence. Chavez supporters argue that the TV and radio stations have long criticized Chavez in one-sided news reports against him.

Congress, which is controlled by Chavez supporters, also recently approved a measure allowing that body to remove and appoint judges to the Supreme Court. One Supreme Court justice has already been ousted for allegedly falsifying his resume, a charge he denied.

The government is also studying the possibility of unifying municipal and state police forces into a national police force, wresting control from mayors and governors, many of whom are Chavez opponents.

Vicente Rangel said the government "will be more audacious, more effective, destined to benefit the country's majority poor."

Chavez's drive to centralize powers has stoked worries that he intends to install a Cuban-style dictatorship, even though elections and the referendum held since he gained power in a 1998 vote have been free and fair.

Albis Munoz, president of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce (search), demanded Tuesday that the government lay out what it plans to do and insisted "that it respect private property."

Human Rights Watch (search) recently issued a statement expressing worries about the independence of Venezuelan institutions like the courts.

If Chavez goes too far in centralizing power, he risks losing popular support, some analysts say.

"There's a real risk if he misinterprets the results of the referendum. It was not an endorsement of packing the Supreme Court, jailing political opponents and restricting the media," said Mark Feierstein of Greenberg, Quinlan, Rasner Research, a Washington polling firm that had predicted Chavez's referendum victory.

Although unemployment is about 15 percent, Chavez has a strong following among the poor majority in this nation of 24 million people after pouring revenues from the state-run oil monopoly into health, education and food programs. Venezuela (search) is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter and has enjoyed a bonanza from record-high oil prices. It is a key supplier to the United States.

Feierstein said Chavez could lose support if Venezuelans feel he is making too many changes to increase his grip on other institutions and continues to attack his critics.

But the opposition is floundering after the referendum, finding itself without a leader to mount a challenge to Chavez in the 2006 elections or a platform that has broad-based appeal. Such considerations took a back seat to the recall effort, and many opposition leaders have been in denial over Chavez's huge popular support.

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) appealed to Venezuelans on Tuesday to settle all issues related to the referendum "in the same civic and democratic spirit that prevailed during the voting."

Fox News' Teri Schultz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.