John Kerry, US secretary of state, on Wednesday backed the Venezuelan opposition’s call for a recount of the vote after disputed presidential elections on Sunday, despite plans for the inauguration on Friday of Nicolás Maduro.

The inauguration ceremony of the heir of the late Hugo Chávez is expected to be attended by delegations from at least 15 countries including Argentina, China and Iran. But Henrique Capriles, the opposition candidate, is still refusing to accept defeat, and both sides are accusing each other of being responsible for the violence that erupted after Mr Maduro’s narrow victory.

Seven people have been killed, 63 injured and 170 people detained as protesters cried fraud and police responded with teargas.

Although Mr Capriles cancelled a protest outside the electoral authority planned for Wednesday after Mr Maduro refused to allow it – the opposition state governor said it would be “infiltrated” by government supporters looking to provoke violence – he continues to demand a full manual recount of the vote. He has yet to request one formally.

Although stopping short of refusing to recognise a Maduro presidency, Mr Kerry’s support for the opposition echoed his government’s earlier comments that it was “difficult to understand” why Venezuela’s electoral authority had certified Mr Maduro’s victory with such “haste”.

Human Rights Watch criticised Venezuela’s government on Wednesday for limiting citizens’ rights to express their views freely and assemble peacefully in response to the disputed election. “Maduro shouldn’t threaten to use an ‘iron fist’ to restrict and intimidate those who try to voice their opinions,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

Meanwhile, government officials accuse Mr Capriles of planning a coup d’état, with state television playing recent images round the clock of burning buildings and masked protesters, alongside footage of the opposition’s last failed attempt to overthrow the late Hugo Chávez in 2002.

On Tuesday, Mr Maduro said he was not afraid to “radicalise” his so-called revolution. He also threatened to refuse to recognise Mr Capriles as governor of Miranda state if he did not accept defeat, and instead allocate state resources “directly to the people”. Mr Capriles told CNN Espanol that Mr Maduro should not recognise him as governor, “but as president”.

The electoral authority says Mr Maduro won by almost 270,000 votes for a share of the vote of nearly 51 per cent. But the opposition claims that Mr Capriles received 300,000 to 400,000 more votes than is reflected in the official count. It says it has evidence of 3,200 irregularities, including the use of fake IDs to the intimidation of volunteers at polling centres.

“The narrow margin in favour of Nicolás Maduro over Henrique Capriles has resulted in a political stalemate that will require statesmanship on both sides if is to be resolved peacefully,” said David Smilde, a Caracas-based Venezuela expert at the Washington Office on Latin America.

Mr Smilde argued that the electoral authority needs to prioritise the demand for a full audit, with Mr Maduro publicly agreeing with the idea on election night. “Even if the system did function well, in light of the fact that a significant part of the population does not trust the result, it would be prudent to carry out the audit,” added Mr Smilde, arguing that it would give greater credibility to all involved.

Concerns that the Opec nation may undergo prolonged instability have hit Venezuela’s volatile and heavily traded debt. The benchmark 2027 bond fell by more than 3 points on Tuesday.

“The future of Venezuela ultimately rests on three things: those who take to the streets to demand a recount, whether they instigate acts of violence and the new government’s ability to prove it can control a highly unstable situation,” said Stratfor, the international political risk consultancy, in a note to clients on Wednesday.

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