A leading US Republican lawmaker accused Hugo Chavez of tightening his grip on power through manipulation and harassment after the Venezuelan leader was elected for another six-year term.

“It is unfortunate that Chavez has retained his grip on power in Venezuela,” said a statement from Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the influential chairwoman of the House foreign affairs committee.

“Chavez has denied access to international election monitors, employed last minute ballot changes, controlled the judicial system, harassed independent journalists, and consolidated his power to manipulate the vote in his favor,” she said on Sunday.

Mentored by Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Chavez has become the leading voice of Latin America’s left, railing against the US “empire” while befriending Iran and Syria.

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