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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 January, 2004, 01:27 GMT
Venezuelans hold rival protests
By James Menendez
BBC, Caracas

Anti-Chavez demonstration in Caracas, 23 January 2004
Critics say Mr Chavez' reforms are crippling the economy
Tens of thousands of opponents and supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have held rival demonstrations in the capital, Caracas.

The opposition is angry that a decision has still not been taken on whether or not President Chavez should face a referendum on his leadership.

They say it is taking too long to check millions of signatures they say they collected calling for a referendum.

Government supporters say the opposition's campaign is fraudulent.

Waving banners and placards and blowing whistles, thousands of opponents of President Chavez took to the streets for their first big rally of the year.

'Forgeries'

Under Venezuela's constitution, the president must submit to a vote if at least 20% of the electorate sign a petition.

The opposition handed in their petition more than a month ago but an announcement on whether they have got the number they need is still at least three weeks away.

Pro-Chavez demonstration in Caracas, 23 January 2004
Supporters of Mr Chavez agree with his social reform policies
That is according to the head of Venezuela's electoral council who, earlier on Friday, denied accusations that the organisation was deliberately dragging its feet.

Supporters of Mr Chavez were also out in force on Friday, driving home their claim that most of the opposition signatures are forgeries.

For them the referendum process is simply the latest attempt by a privileged elite to wreck the government's ambitious programme of social reform.

Mr Chavez's opponents say those reforms are crippling the economy and turning this oil rich country into another communist Cuba.




SEE ALSO:
Venezuela army chief backs Chavez
20 Jan 04  |  Americas
Anti-Chavez drive claims success
02 Dec 03  |  Americas
Timeline: Venezuela
13 Sep 03  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Venezuela
08 Nov 03  |  Country profiles


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