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Supporters celebrate after polling stations closed for the December 3 referendum

Photo: Rayner Peña R. / EPA

According to Venezuelan electoral authorities, 95 percent of voters voted in favor of Venezuela's claim to a region in neighboring Guyana. It was "a clear and overwhelming victory for the 'yes' vote in this consultative referendum," the president of the National Electoral Council, Elvis Amoroso, said on Sunday. Around 10.5 million out of 20.7 million eligible voters took part in the non-binding referendum.

The electoral authority left the polling stations open two hours longer to allow the people who had already appeared there to vote.

President Maduro wants to underline claim to resources

With the referendum, President Nicolás Maduro wants to underline Venezuela's claim to the Essequibo region, which is rich in oil and other resources, which belongs to Guyana. Venezuela has claimed the Essequibo region for more than a century. Guyana denounced the referendum as an "existential" threat. Essequibo makes up more than two-thirds of the land area of the former British colony.

"Today is a day of ratification, of national sovereignty, and the people have done this with flying colors," Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said in an evening address on state television.

Protests against referendum in Guyana

In Guyana, thousands of people took to the streets, some wearing T-shirts with the slogan "Essequibo belongs to Guyana". They formed human chains to show their solidarity with the government. President Irfaan Ali assured that the country's borders were secure.

Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, nothing will change immediately in Essequibo. The referendum is not binding, and the people of Essequibo do not vote. Maduro's government has also said it is not trying to use the vote to justify annexing or invading the area.

But tensions rose. The desire increased especially after the oil company ExxonMobil discovered an oil deposit in the area in 2015. In October this year, another significant oil discovery was made in the region, increasing Guyana's reserves to at least <> billion barrels, more than those of oil-rich Kuwait or the United Arab Emirates.