Chavez successor leads opponent in Venezuela vote

CARACAS (AFP) - Mr Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded the late Hugo Chavez as Venezuela's interim president, has an 18-point lead over the opposition's Henrique Capriles ahead of mid-April elections, a polling firm said on Tuesday.

The private Venezuelan pollster Hinterlaces said 53 per cent of Venezuelans would vote for Mr Maduro - Mr Chavez's vice-president and hand-picked successor - while 35 per cent would vote for Mr Capriles.

That's an even bigger lead for Mr Maduro than in the last poll, published weeks before Mr Chavez lost his two-year battle with cancer.

In that survey, half of those questioned indicated they would vote for Mr Maduro, compared to 36 per cent for Mr Capriles.

The youthful Capriles, governor of Miranda state, lost to Mr Chavez in an October presidential election by 11 points - a wide margin, but the best showing ever against the leftist leader.

On April 14, he will take on Mr Maduro in snap elections called to replace Mr Chavez.

Campaigning officially begins on April 2, but the candidates have already begun courting votes in a highly confrontational pre-campaign.