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Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Venezuela's Maduro okays referendum if signatures validated

Venezuela's embattled President Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday he would allow a referendum vote on removing him from power if electoral officials validate the 1.85 million signatures submitted on a petition.
Opposition leaders on Monday had presented reams of signatures to election authorities calling for a referendum to remove the man they blame for a crushing economic crisis.
"If on this second step, they say that the signatures were collected, we head to a referendum, period," Maduro said in his weekly radio address hours before the electoral council was set to start inspecting the signatures.
People across this oil-exporting South American nation fed up with food shortages, soaring inflation and now a paralyzing electricity crunch have flocked to sign a petition for a recall referendum, according to the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable.
The MUD said it had presented 1.85 million signatures -- more than nine times the number needed to launch the referendum process -- to the National Electoral Board.
And if Maduro's latest comments sounded conciliatory, those of the man named as head of the signature verification board were not.
"The process starts tomorrow," said board chair Jorge Rodriguez, on the president's weekly television show.
"In a few days, it is going to come out that they inflated the figure for the number of signatures they handed in, by a million."
Maduro's opponents are racing to hold a recall referendum before the end of the year.
Under Venezuela's constitution, after January 2017 a successful recall vote would transfer power to Maduro's vice president rather than trigger new elections.
The constitution gives the authorities five days to count the signatures collected by the opposition and five days to verify them.
If the electoral board accepts the signatures as valid -- far from a sure bet -- the opposition will then have to collect four million more for the board to organize the vote.
Once-booming Venezuela, which has the world's largest proven oil reserves, has plunged into economic chaos as global crude prices have collapsed.
The import-dependent country faces acute shortages of food and basic goods like toilet paper due to a lack of foreign currency.
The state-led economy has been in recession since 2013 and shrank 5.7 percent last year. The government said inflation came in at more than 180 percent in 2015.
Maduro was elected president by a razor-thin margin in 2013. A recent poll found that more than two thirds of Venezuelans want him to leave office.
by Maria Isabel Sanchez
© 2016 AFP

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