Court paves way for Chavez vote

Venezuela's Supreme Court has revived opposition hopes of securing a referendum on the rule of leftist President Hugo Chavez.

    Chavez's policies have split the nation

    The court ruled on Monday that more

    than 800,000 pro-vote signatures questioned by electoral

    authorities should be considered valid.

    Opposition leaders welcomed the ruling

    as opening the way for a recall vote this

    year on Chavez's rule.

    But the government, which has rejected

    the referendum attempt as riddled with fraud, immediately appealed

    to a higher level of the court against what it called a flawed

    decision.

    Opposition supporters in east Caracas celebrated the court

    ruling by honking car horns, blowing whistles and waving

    national flags.

    The court ordered the National Electoral Council to lift

    its objections to 876,017 pro-referendum signatures originally

    questioned because their petition forms contained examples of

    similar handwriting.

    "This looks like a step in the right direction for the

    opposition, but the government will probably do everything in

    its power to undo the decision"

    Robert Bottome,
    VenEconomy consulting firm

    Disputed signatures

    It said those signatures should be added to more than 1.8

    million already declared valid by the council and not be

    subjected to individual confirmation checks as previously

    planned.

    That gave the opposition a potential total of 2.7 million

    valid signatures, above the the minimum 2.4 million legally

    required to trigger a referendum, although further checks and a

    final decision by the council were still pending.

    "The Electoral Chamber has put an end to the tricks,

    assaults and ambushes that the government was playing through

    the National Electoral Council," said Henry Ramos of the

    Democratic Coordinator opposition coalition.

    Opposition leaders had appealed to the Supreme Court after

    accusing electoral council officials of favouring Chavez by

    unfairly objecting to tens of thousands of signatures.

    Pro-Chavez National Assembly deputy Ismael Garcia said the

    government was asking the Supreme Court's Constitutional

    Chamber to overturn the Electoral Chamber ruling.

    "This is an unprecedented judicial assault and aberration,

    it's a new trick by the opposition that will soon be

    dismantled," he said.

    Violent clashes

    The opposing views signaled a fierce jurisdictional battle

    within the Supreme Court, which like many state institutions in

    Venezuela is split between political followers and foes of the

    president, who was elected in 1998.

    Nine people were killed in street
    clashes in Caracas last month

    "This looks like a step in the right direction for the

    opposition, but the government will probably do everything in

    its power to undo the decision," said Robert Bottome of the

    Caracas-based VenEconomy consulting firm.

    The referendum dispute in the world's Number 5 oil exporter

    turned violent late last month.

    At least nine people were shot dead and dozens injured

    in several days of street clashes between troops and pro-vote

    protesters in Caracas and other cities.

    Opponents of Chavez, whose term ends in early 2007, say his

    self-styled "revolution" threatens to turn oil-rich Venezuela

    into another communist Cuba.

    He accuses his enemies of trying

    to overthrow him with US help, something Washington denies.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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