President Hugo Chavez said Venezuela will not abandon its bid for a U.N. Security Council seat, accusing the United States of using coercive measures to gain support for Guatemala in deadlocked voting at U.N. headquarters.

"Venezuela does not surrender," Chavez said in a speech Tuesday night. "I say it here to the whole world, Venezuela will continue waging this battle."

Chavez called it a struggle against the U.S. "empire" and accused Washington of leading a fierce campaign of "blackmail, pressure, threats of all sorts," during 22 rounds of voting over two days in the U.N. General Assembly.

The U.N. General Assembly took a day off from voting on Wednesday to allow Latin American and Caribbean nations time to seek a way out of the standoff over their regional seat. The 23rd ballot will be held on Thursday morning.

The seat Venezuela is seeking to fill is one of the 10 non-permanent seats on the council. While those members have no veto power, the U.S. fears that Venezuela could be a disruptive force on the council, in part due to its close relations with countries like Iran and Syria.

Chavez says Venezuela would be an independent voice on the council and has proposed to do away with the veto power wielded by the U.S. and other permanent members.

In Guatemala, President Oscar Berger said his country also would stay in the race.

"We have won in all the rounds of voting, except for one tie," Berger told reporters. "Having had so much support from so many countries reflects that we merit the seat, and I am confident that we will get the 22 votes that we still lack."

Chavez, in his televised speech, read out the list of vote results, pausing when he mentioned the one round on Monday that finished in a draw. "The empire, 93 (votes). Venezuela, 93. We tied them," Chavez said with a laugh.

He said if the U.S. government wants to keep trying to deny Venezuela its shot at a rotating seat, it will have to win the vote outright.

"Let them defeat us, there on the field of battle. We aren't going to be negotiating with anyone," Chavez said, addressing visiting Chinese officials and his Cabinet at the presidential palace.

The deadlock appeared to set up the sort of high-profile confrontation that Chavez has thrived on in repeated diplomatic bouts with the Bush administration.

For his part, Chavez has toured the world in recent months while vying for the post and has cemented alliances by pledging hundreds of millions of petrodollars in aid to various countries.

Usually, the 10 rotating seats on the council are filled quietly, with the regional groups they are reserved for agreeing on a candidate to take the two-year term. But Guatemala and Venezuela both covet the seat that will be vacated by Argentina on Dec. 31, and their standoff has split the 32-nation Latin American and Caribbean Group.

Chavez said Washington's international image had suffered from its attempts to sabotage Caracas' U.N. bid.

"Their aim was to humiliate Venezuela. I think they are the ones who come out humiliated now," he said. "We're demonstrating that every day it will be more difficult for the U.S. empire to dominate the world."

CountryWatch: Venezuela

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