Venezuela: Opposition turns over signatures to oust Chavez

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's term ends in 2006, but the opposition is not ready to wait for so long. They say they have already collected over 3 million signatures to a recall referendum on him. The Government praises to carefully check one by one.

Last weekend, opposition leaders turned in more than three million pro-referendum on Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez mandate signatures to the National Electoral Council. Guarded by soldiers and police, Chavez foes said they had already collected as much signatures needed to call on recall vote to anticipate Chavez’s term expiration, legally expected in 2006.

The aim of the referendum would be to cut short the term of President Hugo Chavez. Petitions containing the signatures were crammed into more than 250 boxes transported by bus Friday from opposition headquarters in Caracas to the National Electoral Council.

The number of signatures is far more than the 2.4 million required by the constitution to force a referendum on removing an elected official - in this case, the president - from power. Opposition lawmaker Julio Borges said the Chavez government must respect the will of millions of Venezuelans.

However, Chavez himself said his officials would check all signatures one by one, as accussed his detractors of leading a fraud.

The signatures must still be validated by the electoral council by being cross-referenced against the national electoral register and identification archive. If the council verifies that there are enough valid signatures, it will set a date for the referendum within 97 days.

According to the constitution, to revoke President Chavez's mandate to rule, votes against him must at least equal the number he received in July, 2000, when he was re-elected for a six-year term. In that election, Mr. Chavez received 3.76 million votes, or backing from 60 percent of the electorate.

But Venezuela's Supreme Court has ruled that if the number of referendum votes supporting Mr. Chavez is more than those opposing him, he will remain in office.
If Mr. Chavez loses the referendum vote, new presidential elections must be called within 30 days.

Chavez’s government also led a petitions collect to remove a number of opposition governors and lawmakers from their posts. Official statement says they collected over 4 million signatures.

Energy talks with Castro

Chavez and Cuban President Fidel Castro Tuesday met in Caracas, exploring ways to deepen energy, economic and political cooperation between the two countries. Chavez said yesterday during his weekly radio program that he and Castro will also discuss various social programs that he has enacted, and which were based on similar programs in Cuba. The visit lasted a few hours.
Venezuela's opposition has repeatedly criticized Chavez for his close ties with Cuba, including the sale of 53,000 barrels of oil a day under preferential terms. The two countries signed the oil agreement in 2000. Venezuela's opposition charges that Cuba is reselling the crude at market prices to gain foreign currency.

Hernan Etchaleco,

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Author`s name Andrey Mikhailov