President Chavez said on Thursday that he was ready to submit to a referendum on his leadership.

"We are ready to go to a presidential referendum," the leader said in a broadcast to the nation from the presidential palace in Caracas, as thousands of his supporters cheered him outside.

Venezuela's opposition obtained enough signatures to trigger a referendum on the rule of President Hugo Chavez, electoral authorities said on Thursday. 

Senior National Electoral Council official Jorge Rodriguez said preliminary electronic results showed 2.45 million valid pro-referendum signatures were collected, more than the 2.44 million required.

Officials spent the weekend verifying some 700,000 signatures, in addition to the nearly two million previously verified.

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Venezuela's constitution allows for a recall at any time past
the halfway point of an official's term. 

If the referendum is held before 16 August - when Chavez begins his fourth year in office - and he loses, new presidential elections must be held. 

If the referendum is held after 16 August and Chavez loses, there is no election afterwards and the vice-president takes over from him.