Petition to recall Venezuelan president ‘validated,’ opposition says

CARACAS, Venezuela, June 25 (UPI) — Venezuelan opposition leaders said they have enough validated signatures on a petition to remove President Nicolas Maduro in a recall referendum.

“The total national validation, in spite of all the obstacles, is 409,313 signatures. The annulment will happen in 2016,” Henrique Capriles, the opposition politician, said Friday.

The initial petition handed in last month gathered almost 2 million signatures but election officials said 600,000 of those were fraudulent. Residents who signed the petition had until Friday to have their identity cards and fingerprints checked.

Only 1 percent of the electorate — 194,729 voters — were needed to sign the petition in the first phase.

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The process next must be validated by election officials. Then, a second petition must be signed by 4 million people — 20 percent of the population.

If a referendum can’t be first schedule until after Jan. 10, he would be replaced by the vice president, Aristobulo Isturiz, a supporter of Maduro.

Maduro was elected to a six-year term in April 2013 after the death of Hugo Chavez.

The opposition said Maduro’s socialist policies have led to rampant inflation and shortages of food and basic goods.

The recent slump in oil prices has burdened the country.

“The government, the police and the national guard are the first ones stealing the food,” Manuel Araque, a farmer in Barlovento, told Al Jazeera. “If this government continues in power, they will ruin us.”

Maduro, who says he is the victim of an “economic war” led by businesses with the backing of the U.S., alleges the signature process had irregularities and vowed no referendum will take place this year.

“If there is one, we will go and win it. If there isn’t, political life in this country will go on,” he said.

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