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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 November, 2003, 02:02 GMT
Chavez supporters bid to sack MPs
By James Menendez
BBC correspondent, Caracas

Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez protest against the opposition petition in Caracas
Chavez supporters praise his 'concern for the poor'
A big drive is under way in Venezuela to collect signatures for a referendum to remove 38 opposition deputies.

Some of these were allies of President Hugo Chavez, but defected reducing the government's majority in parliament.

The petition comes a week before the opposition hold their own signature drive to try to get rid of the president himself.

They accuse him of behaving like a dictator who has done little to fight rampant crime and a stagnant economy.

Blocking reform

Nearly 2,000 collection centres have been set up on street corners across the country.

Some of the names at the top of the petition sheets used to support the government in parliament.

Now President Chavez blames them for blocking his programme of reform.

But there is much more at stake here.

The four-day long signature drive is being seen as an important test of government support ahead of the opposition's rival petition next week.

The loose coalition of politicians, business leaders and trades unions that make up Venezuela's opposition are hoping to collect enough signatures to secure a referendum on President Chavez himself.

The president's supporters praise his efforts to improve health and education - they say he is the first leader in Venezuela to show any concern for the poor.

After a botched coup last year and a two-month long national strike earlier this year, the referendum process is meant to offer a democratic way-out of the stand-off.

Both the government and the opposition say they will play by the rules, but after nearly two years of lurching from crisis to crisis, few expect it to be that easy.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's James Menendez
"Both sides have said they'll play by the rules"



SEE ALSO:
Chavez poll petition rejected
12 Sep 03  |  Americas
Chavez allies rally their support
24 Aug 03  |  Americas
Chavez foes push for early poll
20 Aug 03  |  Americas
Venezuela sets Chavez poll limit
04 Aug 03  |  Americas
Clashes in Venezuelan capital
14 Jun 03  |  Americas
Venezuela MPs boycott parliament
12 Jun 03  |  Americas


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