Opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez might have called foul after they convincingly lost a referendum calling for their leader to step down, but Chavez still faces a deeply divided nation and strong opposition from churches.

In Sunday's referendum Chavez garnered 58 per cent of the votes, but analysts have noted that the 42 per cent who voted to have him step down include many vocal and influential business leaders and technocrats, whose help the president will need to rekindle the economy. Church leaders will also be important in aiding national cohesiveness.

The most important political event in many decades found Evangelicals sharply divided about whether former paratrooper commander Chavez, who has been accused of copying Cuban President Fidel Castro, should remain in power.

Chavez' bitter squabble with the Roman Catholic hierarchy had been widely publicised in Venezuela and internationally, but lesser known was the deep political rift affecting Protestant and Evangelical churches.

"The big question we face today is whether we can defeat Chavez as Chileans trounced Augusto Pinochet in a referendum. And everything has been prepared to prevent this happening," Epifanio Marquez, a Presbyterian leader who represents the views of many middle-class Evangelicals, had said prior to the vote. Until recently, Marquez was executive secretary of the Latin American Alliance of Reformed and Presbyterian Churches (AIPRAL).

Marquez, told Ecumenical News International: "The Supreme Court, the National Electoral Council, the Parliament and the Attorney General are all on the side of the government and drafted a misleading question for the referendum, in which the key word 'revoke' has not been used, despite the fact that 3.4 million ...

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