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Friday, 29 November, 2002, 00:29 GMT
Court rejects vote on Chavez rule
President Chavez surrounded by supporters
President Hugo Chavez is under increasing pressure
Venezuela's Supreme Court has annulled an earlier decision by the country's electoral authorities to hold a referendum on whether President Hugo Chavez should resign.

A protester in Caracas
The president has many enemies
The court said decisions by the National Electoral Council must be made by a qualified majority of at least four votes to one, and it was made by three votes to two.

The National Electoral Council voted to approve the non-binding poll on 2 February, after more than two million Venezuelans signed an opposition petition demanding such a referendum.

Mr Chavez's opponents - who include trade unions, business groups and political parties - accuse him of mismanagement and authoritarian tendencies, and an opposition spokesman has said they would appeal against the court ruling.

The opposition had earlier called a general strike for early December to back its demands for a vote.

The vote would not have legally forced Mr Chavez from office, but correspondents say a decisive rejection would increase pressure on him.

Strike call

Mr Chavez was elected in 1998 and re-elected in 2000. He says the earliest a referendum on his rule can be held is August 2003 - halfway through his six-year term.

However the opposition insists that Venezuela is too polarised and mired in economic recession to wait that long.

National guardsmen disperse a crowd
Caracas has been gripped by opposition protests
Mr Chavez has said he will not stand down "even if they do it and get 90% of votes".

Earlier, Venezuela's Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel described the National Electoral Tribunal's decision as "electoral coup".

The duration of the planned strike has not been decided, but - if it goes ahead - will be the fourth in a year against Mr Chavez, who survived a coup attempt in April.

Tensions have increased in recent weeks, since the government ordered troops into the streets of Caracas to enforce a controversial takeover of the city's police.

Mr Chavez says the measure has increased security, but his opponents accuse him of militarising the capital.

The government and the opposition are currently holding talks, mediated by the Organisation of American States (OAS), in an effort to end Venezuela's political crisis.


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