[R-G] more on petition drive
mstainsby at resist.ca
Sat Feb 14 01:33:13 MST 2004
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- A top election official said Thursday that
authorities have detected signs of possible fraud in a petition for a
recall referendum against President Hugo Chavez and that they may
need several more weeks to decide on its validity.
National Elections Council director Jorge Rodriguez said the council
has set aside an unspecified number of signatures to be reviewed
again and would not be ready to announce a decision in time for
He said the council was "doing everything possible" to rule by the
end of the month.
His comments come as opposition leaders threaten to step up street
protests to demand an end to the delays.
It has been almost two months since opposition leaders submitted what
they claimed were 3.4 million signatures to demand the recall -- well
above the 2.4 million needed to trigger the vote.
Rodriguez said thousands of petition sheets could be thrown out
because staff at sign-up centers had filled out basic personal
information themselves -- and then asked citizens to sign them.
Election officials are at odds over whether that procedure
constitutes a violation of election rules. The elections council is
divided between three directors -- including Rodriguez -- widely
considered sympathetic to Chavez and two seen as pro-opposition.
Tensions between allies and adversaries of the leftist president are
rising as the council prepares to decide on the validity of the
Government foes staged protests in the capital and four other major
cities on Thursday. They plan to march on the National Electoral
Council, where dozens of "Chavistas" are camped and ready for
confrontation, on Saturday.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement Thursday warning
that "political demonstrations, with potential for violence, may take
place" on Friday and in following days.
"U.S. citizens should avoid all demonstrations and areas where groups
are gathering," it stated.
Any clashes between political rivals would interrupt months of calm --
a change from the frequent political violence that left dozens dead
and hundreds injured after a 2002 coup and two-month strike last
Venezuela is deeply divided over Chavez.
Opponents claim Chavez, a close ally of Cuba's Fidel Castro who was
re-elected to a six-year term in 2000, of steering Venezuela toward
communism as he rides roughshod over the nation's democratic
Chavez denies the allegations and argues that his efforts to improve
living conditions for the poor have been misinterpreted. He has vowed
to defeat a possible recall vote and win the next scheduled
presidential elections in 2006.
In the contradiction lies the hope
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