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Venezuelan opposition floods streets of capital in show of support for candidate

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    Partidarios del candidato presidencial opositor Henrique Capriles lo aplauden durante un acto de campaña en Maracay, Venezuela, 4 de abril de 2013. Venezuela elegirá al sucesor del difunto presidente Hugo Chávez el 14 de abril. (AP Foto/Fernando Llano) (The Associated Press)

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    Supporters of Venezuela's interim President Nicolas Maduro cheer during campaig rally in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, April 5, 2013. The presidential election to replace Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez is scheduled for April 14. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos) (The Associated Press)

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    A sign poking fun of ruling party presidential candidate Nicolas Maduro is seen during an opposition campaign rally ahead of next week end's presidential election in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, April 7, 2013. Tens of thousands of opposition candidate Henrique Capriles backers converged on a main avenue in downtown Caracas for Sunday's rally. The writting reads in Spanish "from my heart, fresh lies."(AP Photo/Enric Marti) (The Associated Press)

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    Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles greets supporters as he campaigns in Maracay, Venezuela, Thursday, April 4, 2013. Capriles says he'll cut off subsidized oil to Cuba, distance his country from nations that disrespect human rights and shore up the South American country's own troubled economy with the billions it now sends abroad to socialist friends. The challenger also predicted more tough times ahead for oil-rich Venezuela if acting president and ruling party candidate Nicolas Maduro wins the April 14 election. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano) (The Associated Press)

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    Supporters of opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles cheer as they wait for the arrival of Capriles for a campaign rally in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, April 7, 2013. Capriles is running against ruling party candidate Nicolas Maduro in next weekend's presidential election.(AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos) (The Associated Press)

A general expectation that Hugo Chavez's hand-picked successor will win next weekend's presidential election didn't dim the spirits of the tens of thousands backers of challenger Henrique Capriles, who jammed the capital's center on Sunday.

Most of the people who converged by foot in the city center on a hot, sunny afternoon tried to shrug off forecasts of victory for Nicolas Maduro, who was sworn in as acting president after Hugo Chavez died March 5 following a long battle with cancer.

Chavez had defeated Capriles in October, but by the slimmest margin of his 14-year tenure as president.

Maduro, who rose from bus driver and union organizer to foreign minister under Chavez, is expected to benefit from an emotional outpouring of solidarity among Chavistas who have benefited from the generous social welfare state he created under the socialist banner.

But many critics contend that Maduro has been saddled with a fiscal hangover due to heavy Chavez spending ahead of October's vote.

Jesus Barroso, a 52-year-old retiree, said he believes Maduro will win handily next Sunday. But he predicted Maduro would not be able complete the six-year term because economic and social woes would prompt Venezuelans to remove him through a recall.

"I don't think he'll last very long in the presidency," Barroso said.

Supporters of Capriles chanted anti-government slogans and waved red, yellow and blue Venezuelan flags as they converged on a main avenue in downtown Caracas, where the 40-year-old governor of central Miranda state, was scheduled to speak.

Upbeat demonstrators danced to music sound trucks, which blasted "Fresh Lie," a newly composed song by Puerto Rican salsa musician Willie Colon that pokes fun at Maduro.

Capriles has repeatedly accused Maduro of failing to resolve pressing problems including frequent power outages, crumbling infrastructure, shortages of basic foods and double-digit inflation, and supporters say Capriles can do better.

"He's capable of offering opportunities to get us out of this disaster," said Maria De Llano, noting that she has difficulty finding some medicines and foods due to sporadic shortages.

Meanwhile, Maduro invoked Chavez yet again during a rally in the southern state of Apure, telling his backers that "El Comandante" is watching over them from Heaven.

"He's protecting us," Maduro said. "Chavez, we are with your love ... We are not going to let you down."

A recent poll by the independent polling firm Datanalisis showed Capriles trailed Maduro 49 percent to 35 percent in a sampling of 800 voters from March 11-13. The poll, with 16 percent of respondents undecided, had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

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Christopher Toothaker on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ctoothaker