Chavez opponents 'fail' to force recall

Opponents of President Hugo Chavez have failed to collect enough signatures for a recall vote against him, Venezuela's top election official has said.

    Chavez has promised to share Venezuela's wealth with the poor

    National

    Electoral Council President Francisco Carrasquero made the announcement on Tuesday

    as anti-government demonstrators

    protested in the streets.

    But opposition voters will have a chance to reconfirm

    disputed signatures, leaving open the possibility they could

    still meet the target to trigger a referendum,

    Carrasquero said.

    The council's preliminary results showed

    the opposition had collected only between 1.7 million and 1.8

    million valid pro-referendum signatures - short of the minimum

    2.4 million required by the constitution.

    "It's not enough," he told the BBC in Spanish before an

    expected official announcement.

    Anti-government protests

    He said an additional 600,000 to 700,000 signatures would

    be subject to reconfirmation.

    Carrasquero spoke as troops and anti-government protesters

    skirmished in the streets for a fifth day.

    "These are not the correct figures"

    Andres Velazquez,
    Opposition leader

    National Guard

    soldiers fired tear gas to clear protesters in eastern Caracas,

    and demonstrators set up burning barricades to block several

    highways in the capital and other cities.

    A final decision on the referendum would be made in March

    after the complex reconfirmation process, which has been

    criticised by the opposition as a tactic to delay the vote.

    Angry opposition leaders called the leak of the signature

    figures irresponsible and said they did not accept them.

    Four killed

    "These are not the correct figures," said opposition leader

    Andres Velazquez, insisting they had handed in more than three

     

    million signatures in December.

    Most of the capital of six million people remained generally

    quiet on Tuesday.

    Smoke billowed from burning tires in the

    eastern Altamira district, where troops cleared charred debris

    and twisted metal from Monday night's street battle.

    At least four people have been killed and dozens wounded in

    the latest violence to rattle the world's fifth largest oil exporter as

    Chavez opponents demanded the council allow them a chance to

    challenge a president they accuse of dictatorial rule.

    Venezuela's oil operations - the nation's economic

    mainstay - have been unaffected by the protests, officials

    from the state oil firm PDVSA said.

    Petition forgeries?

    But some traders fear a repeat

    of the two-month opposition strike at the start of last year

    that disrupted vital crude production.

    Opposition leaders accuse pro-Chavez officials in the

    election council of trying to block the referendum bid by

    questioning thousands of signatures during the verification

    process.

    They say they collected 3.4 million signatures.

    Four people were killed in recent
    anti-government protests

    The council, whose board is controlled by a 3-2 majority of

    pro-Chavez directors, was expected to send about one million

    signatures for further examination, a measure opposition

    leaders say will essentially scuttle the referendum.

    Chavez, who survived a coup in 2002 and the grueling

    two-month strike last year, has dismissed the opposition

    petition as filled with forgeries.

    Chavez revolution

    He says his foes are

    fomenting violence in another attempt to topple him.

    Military commanders say the armed forces will act to

    guarantee order and around 30 people have been arrested,

    including one opposition leader.

    International observers, led by the Organization of

    American States, have struggled for more than a year to end the

    bitter political standoff.

    After winning a landslide election in 1998, Chavez has

    battled growing opposition to his self-styled revolution, which

    promises to give the poor more benefits from Venezuela's huge

    oil wealth.

    But his foes say he has failed to reverse years of

    neglect by previous governments.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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