CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday told Venezuela's military to be prepared for a fight as the country remains tense after a landslide defeat for his socialist party in congressional elections.
Maduro told troops at a year-end celebration in Caracas that the coming year could see a political showdown between the socialist administration and its enemies.
Soldiers listened solemnly as the late President Hugo Chavez's voice rang out over loudspeakers, and they applauded when Maduro reminded them of his quick acceptance of the crushing legislative election loss on Dec. 6.
Maduro also said he had ordered the military to return to barracks after troops were deployed across the country to public spaces to maintain order during the election campaign and the vote itself.
All eyes are on the country's military after the opposition's victory because the armed forces have traditionally been the arbiter of major political fights in Venezuela.
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Maduro kept up the combative tone he has taken with the opposition, repeating the government's longstanding contention that Venezuela's enemies are waging a war on its socialist system.
While Maduro spoke, some opposition members took to the capital's streets to celebrate their election victory, which was the socialists' first rebuff in electoral contests since Chavez was first elected president 17 years ago.
In the city's poor Petare neighborhood, a street party atmosphere reigned as re-elected opposition lawmaker Miguel Pizarro made the rounds, hugging his supporters and drawing cheers of "Long live Venezuela!"
Opposition backers sang and danced in the steep, narrow streets linked with simple brick homes.
"We were hoping for a change. It is justice that we make a change after 17 years of the same people ... We all hope with this new congress to solve the problems of crime and economic crisis," a teary-eyed Elena Moreira said after embracing Pizarro.
The opposition Democratic Unity coalition won a huge victory in the legislative contest, which came amid widespread discontent over Venezuela's high crime, widespread shortages and triple-digit inflation.
The opposition ended up with 112 of the National Assembly's 167 seats, giving it an important two-thirds majority that dramatically strengthens its hand in challenging Maduro. The socialist party and its allies hold 55 seats.