Guatemala failed repeatedly Tuesday to muster the necessary votes to beat out Venezuela for a Latin American seat on the U.N. Security Council, prompting some diplomats to demand a compromise candidate be put forward.

In the 16th round of voting in the 192-member General Assembly, Guatemala had gained 108 votes to Venezuela's 76, results that differed little from previous rounds. That was short of the necessary 123 for a two-thirds majority to win a two-year stint on the U.N.'s most powerful body.

That result led diplomats to call for an alternative choice -- a step that would require the United Nations' Latin American and Caribbean group of nations to agree on a new candidate. Guatemala and Venezuela also would have to give up their campaigns.

"It's obvious that the General Assembly is sharply divided and we are facing a deadlock in this election," said the Arab League's U.N. representative Yahya Mahmassani. "We look forward to the group of Latin American and Caribbean states to find a solution to this impasse, with the acquiescence and acceptance of the two candidates."

Guatemala received 107 votes in the 11th round, 107 in the 12th, 112 in the 13th, 108 in the 14th and 107 in the 15th. Venezuela got 76, 77, 75, 76 and 78 votes respectively.

Except for one round that ended in a tie, U.S.-backed Guatemala maintained a clear advantage over Venezuela in Monday's votes.

Yet neither Venezuela nor Guatemala appeared willing to drop out of the election.

Venezuela's U.N. Ambassador Francisco Arias Cardenas complained that the United States pressed countries worldwide to prevent Venezuela from winning a seat on the 15-nation council.

"We are fighting against the first power of the world, the owners of the universe," Arias Cardenas said. We're happy, we're strong and we will continue."

Venezuelan diplomat Roy Chaderton, who played a key role in his country's campaign for the seat, said the results were only a minor setback in the long struggle against U.S. efforts to dominate international affairs.

"There were a lot of telephone calls made from Washington ... to coerce and scare countries that had decided to vote for Venezuela," Chaderton said.

The results were seen as a setback for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who had lobbied hard in capitals around the world, offering millions of petro-dollars in aid.

Diplomats said his bombastic speech to the General Assembly in September, when Chavez railed against the United States and called President George W. Bush "the devil," may have hurt Venezuela's chances. Even U.S. politicians who had reached out to Chavez criticized the speech.

The vote, however, also reflected the ambivalence toward Guatemala, Washington's preferred candidate. Even Guatemalan Foreign Minister Gert Rosenthal had earlier expressed discomfort about the highly public U.S. campaign against Venezuela and in support of Guatemala.

After Monday's balloting, Rosenthal said his nation was an "independent voice" that would vote according to its own policies.

The record number of ballots for a Security Council seat occurred in 1979, when the General Assembly held 154 unsuccessful votes to choose between Cuba and Colombia. Mexico was then put forward and won in the 155th round.

Possible other candidates include Uruguay, Costa Rica, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

According to the rules, voting is to continue until a candidate secures a two-thirds majority. A protracted stalemate therefore is possible — there are precedents where voting lasts for weeks, and there is the possibility that the General Assembly could end its fall term without filling the vacancy.

Venezuela has served four times on the Security Council. Guatemala has never had a seat but is a leading contributor of troops to U.N. peacekeeping missions.

The 10 non-permanent seats on the council are filled by the regional groups for two-year stretches. The other five are occupied by the veto-wielding permanent members: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

CountryWatch: Venezuela

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