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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 November, 2003, 00:14 GMT
'Millions' back ouster of Chavez opponents
Nearly eight million Venezuelans have signed a petition for a referendum to remove 38 opposition deputies from parliament, said the country's vice-president.

Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez protest against the opposition petition in Caracas
Chavez supporters praise his 'concern for the poor'
Jose Vicente Rangel said turn out had been massive during the four-day signature campaign to unseat the government opponents.

It comes a week before the opposition holds its own signature drive to try to get rid of President Hugo Chavez himself.

His opponents - a loose coalition of politicians, business leaders and trades unions - need to get more than 2.4 million signatures to trigger a recall vote on the president's rule.

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

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.

Vice-president Jose Vicente Rangel said that 7.9 million signatures had been collected over the weekend during the government's campaign to oust the opposition deputies.

Some of the names at the top of the petition sheets used to support the government in parliament. President Chavez blames them for blocking his programme of reform.

Appeal

International observers of the weekend's signature collection said it passed off peacefully.

"We have expectations that the coming weekend is going to be exactly the same," said Jennifer McCoy of the Atlanta-based Carter Center. "Peace, calm and civility."

Anti-Chavez referendum campaign
Opponents of Chavez want to force a referendum on his presidency
Both sides had warned of possible violence.

Julio Borges of the Primero Justicia opposition party appealed to Chavez's ruling party "please treat us with the same respect next weekend as we treated you this weekend".

Mr Rangel said the government would respect the upcoming vote. "We want all Venezuelans to be able to express their will," he said.

The BBC's James Menendez in Caracas says the referendum process is meant to offer a democratic way out of a stand-off between the two sides - following a botched coup last year and a two-month long national strike earlier this year.

But few expect the process to be easy, our correspondent adds.




SEE ALSO:
Chavez supporters bid to sack MPs
22 Nov 03  |  Americas
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


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