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Venezuela: Chavez Challenges Referendum

In Havana, the Venezuelan President confirms that fake signatures were found in opposition driven recall poll
During a visit to Cuba, attending a United Nations conference, Venezuela's leader rejected part of the 2.4 million signatures collected by the opposition demanding a referendum on his rule. Chavez said many of them are fake and has ordered an investigation into the private firm that collected the signatures. 

 "We have proof they committed fraud. They transcribed signatures from some of their banks or there are signatures of dead people," Mr Chavez said after meeting Cuba's President Fidel Castro in Havana. The Venezuela's President also claimed his government would appeal any electoral council decision validating signatures or approving voting.

Last week, both opposition and government agreed on the appointing of new electoral committee, entitled to overview the process. Venezuela’s constitution allows a referendum vote on Chavez’s mandate after halfway through his current term, but it can only be called if the petition is backed by 20 per cent of the electorate.

Chavez said if the council decided the signatures were legal, "it would lose credibility and would not be able to run any election, not even to elect Miss Venezuela". Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, in turn Wednesday asked state prosecutors to investigate the funding and activities of the non-profit Sumate Company. Sumate coordinated the nationwide collection of more than three million signatures for the petition.

Rangel accused Sumate of operating without any legal permission, as they begun their work prior to the date in which the Electoral Council was constituted. Therefore, the Government says Sumate misused over $280,000 in donated funds.

Foreign media fights Chavez

Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez, is used to the attacks of the local media, handled as a monopoly by the powerful group Cisneros, that controls the commercial TV, newspapers, magazines and many radio stations. Cisneros Group also enjoys the support of powerful foreign partners as Pepsi Co (Venezuela is the only Latin American country in which Pepsi is more popular than Coca-Cola), DirecTV (USA), AOL (USA) and the huge investment fund Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst. Cisneros has an estimated annual income of $4 billion and has targeted Chavez since the start of his presidency.

Even though the strikes and coups of this year have failed, Chavez has now found the foreign press to be a new foe. International news agencies, as well as US and UK newspapers have a habit of calling the constitutional and democratically elected President of the Republic of Venezuela a "dictator", "leader of a festering feud", "leftist populist".