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Chavez likely to face recall vote

Venezuela's National Electoral Council said on Thursday that the opposition had gathered enough signatures to call on a referendum against the President by a narrow margin. Chavez admitted the figures. Nine opposition congressmen will also face a recall vote.

“Game starts now”, said Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez in a TV statement shortly after National Electoral Council spokesman, Jorge Rodriguez, announced that the opposition had gathered enough signatures to call on a recall referendum on his mandate. Though Chavez did not clearly admitted results –they are “provisional” he said- his words sounded as a way to prepare his followers for a setback.

Based upon a count of roughly 40 percent of voter signatures, supporters of a recall vote will have gathered 2,451,821 signatures when the counting is completed, said Jorge Rodriguez, a director of the National Elections Council. That would surpass the 2,436,083 signatures — or 20 percent of the electorate — required to demand the referendum. Venezuela's opposition immediately released its own tally, saying it had obtained 2.56 million signatures.

Now the question is when the referendum takes place. If both the opposition and the government agree a date prior to August 19 –halfway Chavez mandate- then the President could be removed and immediate elections should be called to replace him in thirty days. If after, vice-president takes office until the expiring date in 2007. Vice-President, Jose Vicente Rangel, is an unconditional supporter of Chavez’s Bolivarian Republic.

Information Minister Jesse Chacon said Thursday's announcement proved Venezuela's democracy was strong despite opposition allegations that Chavez was steering the country into dictatorship. "Undoubtedly, the democracy that we want — participative democracy — exists," Chacon told state television station Venezolana de Television. For a recall to succeed, more citizens would have to vote against Chavez than the 3.76 million people who re-elected him in 2000.

The same words were used by Chavez at his aired TV speech: “This is a victory of a democracy that for the first time in the history of Venezuela includes the people”. The leftist leader also remembered that the referendum initiative was included in the National Constitution thanks to his proposal.

The council also approved recall referendums against nine opposition lawmakers, Rodriguez said. He did not announce dates for the votes, which would likely further polarize the world's No. 5 oil exporter.

Chavez supporters called on mass demonstration on support of Venezuela's democratic revolution for the weekend and promised to back their president. Chavez, in turn, said he would protect and defend its people “with the sword of (Simon) Bolivar”, national hero and one of the liberators of South America.

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