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Chavez stages rally ahead of poll

Opponents and supporters of president Hugo Chavez held their final rallies ahead of legislative elections that both of Venezuela's political camps view as a critical test.

Venezuelans on Sunday will elect 165 members of the National Assembly, which has been almost entirely pro-Chavez since opposition parties boycotted the last vote in 2005 citing concerns about possible irregularities.

Mr Chavez led two campaign rallies in provincial cities, calling for an overwhelming win and saying the vote is an important step on his path to running for re-election in 2012.

A crowd of supporters cheered when Mr Chavez took the stage in the city of Barquisimeto, started bouncing up and down while swinging his arms like a boxer and said: "We're going to give them a beating."

The socialist leader denounced his opponents as "the Yankee empire's candidates" and - as he has often alleged during his 11-year presidency - accused them of being in cahoots with his critics in Washington.

The opposition, which has smoothed over divisions and fielded a unified slate of candidates, is going into the elections aiming to win a majority - or at the very least to prevent Mr Chavez from keeping a two-thirds majority in the unicameral legislature.

The opposition has voiced concerns that Mr Chavez's candidates enjoy advantages, including benefiting from public funding and ample TV time.

Those concerns remain but should not weigh on Sunday's results, said Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, leader of the opposition coalition Democratic Unity Table.

"It's a fight of David against Goliath, and it's going to end as the Biblical fight did," Mr Aveledo said.

Mr Aveledo said the opposition will accept the election results as long as they are transparent.

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