Former Venezuelan lawmaker Machado defends opposition primary against govt criticism

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By Deisy Buitrago and Vivian Sequera

CARACAS (Reuters) - Former Venezuelan lawmaker Maria Corina Machado, who has declared victory in a primary to choose the opposition's 2024 presidential candidate, on Tuesday defended the vote against government accusations that it violated an electoral deal.

The Sunday primary, in which Machado has won almost 93% of the count of nearly 65% of the ballot boxes so far, had a higher-than-expected turnout even in areas traditionally allied with the ruling party.

Voting in the primary was transparent "from beginning to end," Machado said.

The vote came after the opposition and President Nicolas Maduro's government inked an election deal last week, prompting the United States to roll back sanctions on oil, gas and bonds.

The U.S. State Department has repeatedly said it would reverse the easing of the sanctions if the government does not lift the bans on opposition figures holding public office, and free political prisoners and "wrongfully detained" Americans by end-November.

The opposition commission organizing the primary has not yet released the final results.

The primary was "a farce", said lawmaker Jorge Rodriguez in a press conference.

Rodriguez, who heads the government team in talks with the opposition, said the vote was not verifiable and called for a meeting with his opposition counterparts.

"Electoral conditions are registration, audit of votes, counting of the vote, one person one vote, (and) for there to be 18 audits. They signed that," Rodriguez said, referring to the electoral deal and saying the opposition primary violated it.

Rodriguez said the primary commission had committed crimes, but provided no details or evidence.

"It was a clear process, the people counted their votes ... It's a scrutinized process from beginning to end," Machado told journalists at her own media event.

"Are you going to call 2.5 million Venezuelans cheaters?"

The electoral deal, which allows each side to choose its 2024 candidate via an internal process, did not lift the bans on opposition figures, including Machado.

(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago and Vivian Sequera; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Tom Hogue)