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Tuesday, 5 November, 2002, 03:00 GMT
Dozens injured in Caracas clashes
Venezuelan police fire tear gas at government supporters
Police used tear gas to disperse Mr Chavez's supporters

Dozen of people have been wounded in Venezuela after security forces clashed with stone-throwing supporters of President Hugo Chavez during an anti-government march.

A member of the opposition carries a box with signatures for the referendum
Opposition presses for Mr Chavez's resignation
The violent clashes broke out after government leaders had failed to persuade hundreds of angry Mr Chavez's supporters to go home.

They had gathered outside the National Electoral Council building in central Caracas in an attempt to prevent the delivery of more than two million signatures for a referendum demanding the president's resignation.

This is the first time in the oil rich country's history a referendum has been requested by popular demand.

'More democracy'

As tens of thousands of anti-government marchers approached the building, National Guard soldiers dispersed the crowd with tear gas.

Supporters of President Hugo Chavez
Chavistas form the core of the president's supporters

In the chaos, guns were fired, and at least 10 people were wounded, several seriously.

Shortly afterwards a truck covered in a huge national flag and a banner reading "Here go the signatures to save Venezuela" arrived at the electoral council.

After triumphantly delivering the petition, opposition spokesman said the country was at a crossroads between more democracy, or more violence.

Mr Chavez's opponents accuse him of promoting class hatred through his divisive leftist rhetoric and paralysing the economy of the world's fifth largest oil exporter.

Chavez unmoved

Under the country's constitution, about 1.2 million signatures from the electorate are needed to hold the referendum.

Hugo Chavez
Chavez: No referendum before August

Although it would not be binding, opposition groups hope a massive vote against the president will embarrass him into stepping down.

Electoral council officials said it would take 30 days to verify the signatures and a further 60 to hold the referendum.

It is still unclear whether it will ever take place.

Mr Chavez, who still has about 30% support, according to opinion polls, says it cannot vote on his presidency.

He insists his opponents will have to wait until August next year when they will be able to vote him out through a constitutionally binding referendum.


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