Chavez notches up one million Twitter followers

President Hugo Chavez, who has embraced new media in his quest to dominate Venezuela’s airwaves, celebrated his millionth follower on Monday on Twitter.

The firebrand leader, known for his fiercely anti-US rhetoric, opened his account in April in response to the growing use of social networking sites by opposition parties that fear restrictions in the mainstream press.

“Hello beautiful world. I would like to thank all my followers. We have passed the million mark! Wow! We’re going to keep on winning,” Chavez declared in his celebratory @chavezcandanga tweet.

In just seven months, Chavez has become the most popular tweeter in Venezuela, amassing 1,002,300 followers and counting as of 1845 GMT Monday.

Faced with a barrage of correspondence, the president has had to open a special department to read and respond to his Twitter messages, many of them asking him for work or housing.

Very active to start with, Chavez has become a less prolific tweeter in recent weeks, but still uses the forum to defend his government’s actions or add his particular brand of commentary to world events.

It was on @chavezcandanga that he on Sunday congratulated Dilma Rousseff on her election as Brazil’s first female leader and last week offered his condolences over the death of former Argentine president Nestor Kirchner.

To his critics, Chavez’s popularity on Twitter simply shows his desire to control Venezuela’s media and silence opposition voices.

His leftist government runs a comprehensive network of official media, including television and radio stations, newspapers and news agencies.

Chavez has been quick to try and clamp down on and restrict opposition media outlets and has been widely criticised by rights groups and the United States for what is seen as a continuing assault on the freedom of the press.

Opposition parties waged a Twitter battle for influence from their account @unidadvenezuela ahead of September’s legislative elections.

The polls were widely seen as a test of strength for the polarizing Chavez, whose popularity has waned amid an economic recession, inflation and soaring crime rates in Caracas.

The opposition claimed to have won a majority of popular votes and to have won enough seats to challenge the uncontested control Chavez has exercised over the legislature since 2005.

Chavez still has some way to go to catch the most popular tweeters on the planet, American pop stars Lady Gaga and Britney Spears, who have between six and seven million followers. – AFP



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