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Last Updated: Friday, 4 June, 2004, 03:04 GMT 04:04 UK
Chavez 'prepared' for referendum
Chavez opponents in Caracas on news of a possible referendum
Opponents celebrated after the announcement by election officials
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he is ready to face a referendum on his term of office.

He was speaking shortly after electoral officials said his opponents had gathered more than the 2.44 million signatures required to trigger a vote.

In a televised address, Mr Chavez said he was confident of winning and added that his constitutional changes had made the referendum possible.

Opposition supporters set off fireworks and blew car horns at news of a recall.

"I accept it, I accept it," said Mr Chavez in a nationwide broadcast.

He called the announcement a victory for democracy in Venezuela.

"I hope that some people realise - if they are still confused - that Hugo Chavez is not the tyrant some say he is," he added.

The BBC's James Menendez in Caracas said Mr Chavez's apparent eagerness to submit to a vote represents a significant change of tack.

In the past, the president had cast doubt on the opposition's ability to collect the required number of signatures.

When the original petition was handed in, Mr Chavez called it a mega fraud.

His broadcast came just hours after election officials said early results showed just over 2.45 million people had signed the petition for a referendum.

National Elections Council director Jorge Rodriguez did not say when final results would be released and did not announce a date for a referendum.

The vote is meant to help end more than two years of political conflict.

Critics say President Chavez is wrecking the economy of the oil-rich country, while supporters say he is transforming the lives of the impoverished majority.

Fireworks

As soon as the results were announced, some parts of Caracas were filled with the sounds of car horns blaring and fireworks being set off.

But Mr Chavez, in his broadcast, criticised the opposition for celebrating too early - saying the real battle had only just begun, and he intended to win.

One question though remains, says our correspondent. When will the referendum take place?

A provisional date has been set for 8 August but it is not clear whether that will slip.

The timing is crucial, our correspondent adds. If the vote is held after 19 August and President Chavez loses, then the vice president will take over without the need for fresh elections.

For the opposition, that would amount to a defeat, adds our correspondent.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's James Menendez
"The government claims some of the signatures may be fraudulent"



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