CARACAS - Venezuelans vote on Sunday with President Hugo Chavez facing the biggest electoral challenge yet to his socialist rule from a young rival tapping into discontent over crime and cronyism.

Henrique Capriles, a centrist state governor, edged toward the still popular Chavez in final polls thanks to a vigorous campaign that united the opposition and made him its best chance of ending Chavez's 14-year rule.

Chavez has used record oil revenue to support ideological allies around the world, while preaching a fiercely anti-US line, so the election will be watched eagerly from the United States to Belarus and Iran.

Across the poor neighborhoods where the flamboyant former soldier draws his most fervent following, loyalists prepared to blow bugles and trumpets in a predawn wake-up call for voters.

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