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Venezuelans have voted overwhelmingly, in favour of claiming a disputed oil-rich territory long controlled by neighbouring Guyana.

Officials say, more than 95% approved establishing a new state in Essequibo.

Caracas says the region has been part of Venezuela since independence from Spain 200 years ago, but Guyana says, it was awarded to what was then British Guiana in the late 19th century.

The dispute flared up again in 2015, after a major offshore oil discovery.

President Nicolás Maduro hailed, the referendum result as an “overwhelming victory for ‘yes’ throughout Venezuela”.

Essequibo, an area of 159,500 sq. km (61,600 sq. miles), makes up two thirds of the land controlled by Guyana, and is home to around a sixth of its population.

The status of the region has long been a source of tension between the two neighbours.

An 1899, ruling by an international arbitral tribunal awarded the territory to Britain, which at the time was the colonial power in Guyana, but in recent decades.

Successive Venezuelan governments have argued the ruling was unfair.

In 1966, the year Guyana gained independence, Britain and Venezuela agreed. That a commission made up of representatives from Guyana and Venezuela would be set up to revisit the dispute, but six decades later no resolution has been reached.

The referendum follows the discovery in 2015 of oil in the waters off Essequibo’s coast by us oil giant ExxonMobil.

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