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Thursday, 7 November, 2002, 00:56 GMT
Chavez fights referendum plans
Referendum signatures are delivered to the electoral council
The 2006 election is too far away for some
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has asked the country's Supreme Court to sack the electoral council as the opposition attempts to force a referendum on his rule.

The council's removal and the time needed for parliament to appoint a replacement would hold up plans for a referendum set in motion by an opposition petition this week.


This action reveals a president holding on to power with all the tricks possible

Gerardo Blyde
opposition politician
Mr Chavez rejects the poll as unconstitutional, arguing that there is already provision for a mid-term referendum on his performance in August 2003.

The head of the electoral council, Roberto Ruiz, has resigned, blaming pressure from both the leftist president and the opposition, which is threatening a new general strike.

In an interview for the BBC, he denied allegations by fellow members of the council that he was trying to delay the referendum, which must either be accepted or rejected by the council by 4 December.

But he also accused Mr Chavez of interfering with the workings of the council.

'Dirty tricks'

The acting head of the council, Alfredo Valle Guevara, said on Wednesday that it would continue processing the petition, reportedly signed by two million Venezuelans, but would also respect any decision of the Supreme Court.

The existing electoral council was appointed in 2000 on a caretaker basis.

Hugo Chavez
Chavez: No referendum before August
Mr Chavez wants to eject the present council before permanent new members are elected by parliament - dominated by the president's Fifth Republic Movement.

If the current members are removed there will effectively be no electoral body to rule on the opposition's referendum petition.

Gerardo Blyde, whose opposition Justice First party collected most of the signatures for the petition, accused Mr Chavez of fearing electoral defeat.

"This action reveals a president holding on to power with all the tricks possible," he said.

Another anti-Chavez leader, Carlos Fernandez, said the president was forcing the opposition into holding another general strike - the fourth since his election in 2000.

Clashes erupted in the capital, Caracas, on Monday when the opposition handed in its petition and security forces had to fight back a counter-demonstration by supporters of the president.

Chavez adamant

But President Chavez, who returned to power on a wave of popular support after a short-lived coup this spring, is resolutely opposed to the referendum.

"A consultative referendum cannot be used or held to decide whether a ruler will stay in his post," he said on the eve of Monday's petition.


We are seeking to balance the country

Hugo Chavez
Adding that no such referendum could be held until the president had reached the mid-point of his six-year term, he stressed that the outcome of a consultative referendum was not binding.

However, the Venezuelan opposition hopes he will be so soundly defeated that he will feel obliged to leave office.

Much of the anger against Mr Chavez is linked to his espousal of leftist politics, seen most graphically in his close ties with Communist Cuba's Fidel Castro.

Speaking in a nationwide address on Sunday, he defended his political aims for oil-rich Venezuela:

"Wealthy Venezuelans should understand that the government I lead is working for them. One way we are working for them is by doing something about the poor, which will help to create a balance. We are seeking to balance the country so that we can all live in peace."


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05 Nov 02 | Americas
20 Oct 02 | Americas
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