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Venezuela Lets Maduro Recall Advance

11 June 2016 19:50


Facing mounting pressure from food shortages, looting and increasingly violent protests, Venezuelan authorities announced the next stage of a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro.

But Maduro’s camp said it would go to the Supreme Court to contest the process, accusing the opposition of fraud while gathering the signatures needed to call a referendum, AFP reported.

The wranglings are part of a marathon process to call a vote on sacking the leftist president, whom opponents accuse of driving oil-rich Venezuela to the brink of economic collapse.

The National Electoral Board’s (CNE) decision to let the recall move ahead came with a warning from its chief, Tibisay Lucena, who told Maduro’s opponents the proceedings would be halted if there was any violence.

After repeated opposition protests, Lucena finally announced the CNE would take fingerprint scans from June 20 to 24 to confirm the identity of people who signed the opposition’s referendum petition.

The electoral board, which the opposition accuses of dragging its feet to protect Maduro, appeared to have caved in after protests turned violent Thursday and left a prominent lawmaker bloodied and beaten.

But a Maduro loyalist appointed to oversee the process, Jorge Rodriguez, vowed to go to the Supreme Court to stop what he called “this crime against the constitution”.

He said the opposition’s petition, submitted on May 2 with 1.8 million signatures, included dead people, children and others ineligible to sign.

Protests, looting and violent crime have been mounting in Venezuela as the country reels from shortages of food, water, medicine and electricity.

On Thursday, police fired tear gas to break up a protest led by lawmakers in the opposition-majority congress, who tried to march on the CNE’s headquarters.

It was the fourth time in recent days police had cracked down on similar marches.

A brawl broke out and punches flew when the protesters faced Maduro supporters.

At least 200,000 people who signed the recall referendum petition must now confirm their identity with fingerprint scans.

Under the constitution, the opposition would then have to gather four million more signatures — 20 percent of the electorate — to trigger a recall vote.

Maduro’s opponents are racing to call a referendum before January 10, as a successful recall vote before that deadline would trigger new elections rather than transfer power to the vice president.

Seven in 10 Venezuelans want Maduro to go, according to polls.

In a sign of growing unrest, new looting sprees broke out overnight in Petare, a sprawling, impoverished neighborhood in eastern Caracas, when residents descended on two food delivery trucks and 10 businesses, carting off their stock.

“People are going out and looting because they’re hungry. They can’t find any food,” said Robert Arcila, a 22-year-old who sells eggs on the street and was nearby when looters sacked a truck hauling sausages and cheese.

“All of Venezuela’s crises are converging,” said Amnesty International’s Erika Guevara, the rights group’s director for the Americas.

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