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Last Updated: Monday, 4 August, 2003, 22:54 GMT 23:54 UK
Venezuela sets Chavez poll limit
President Hugo Chavez
The mid-point of Chavez's rule falls on 19 August
Venezuela's Supreme Court has given parliament 10 days to appoint an electoral council for a referendum on President Hugo Chavez's rule.

Chief justice Ivan Rincon said if the National Assembly failed to agree on the members of the electoral council, the body would be appointed by the court.

Opposition leaders want to drive Mr Chavez out of office in a referendum expected after 19 August - halfway through his current term, which is due to end in early 2007.

The government has accepted to hold a referendum under a deal brokered by the Organization of American States in May.

The referendum has to be organised by a new National Electoral Council, but parliament has been deadlocked with government MPs staying away from proceedings.

No agreement

"We are guaranteeing the political right, the right to vote, of all Venezuelans," Mr Rincon said.

Under Venezuela's constitution, the president can be forced to accept a referendum on his or her rule at the halfway point of the six-year term, if 20% of the electorate ask for it.

Pro-Chavez MPs, who hold a slight majority within the 165-seat National Assembly, and a handful of opposition parties have failed to reach an agreement to appoint directors of the council.

They need a two-thirds majority to name the election authority.

President Chavez, who was elected on promises to bring about economic prosperity, has been accused of mismanaging the economy and becoming increasingly authoritarian.

He says a political elite is pushing for his removal to regain the privileges it lost when he took power.

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