Sun, Nov 30, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Venezuelan opposition renews attack on Chavez


Opponents of President Hugo Chavez revived a nationwide movement to force him from office, turning out en masse to sign petitions for a referendum on his rule.

Chanting anti-Chavez slogans as they waited in block-long lines on Friday, government foes predicted the president's imminent downfall as they began a four-day signature drive for a presidential recall.

Venezuela has lurched from crisis to crisis -- including a short-lived coup last year and a two-month general strike that fizzled in February -- since the opposition began pushing for Chavez's ouster two years ago.

Venezuela's opposition needs 2.4 million signatures to force a vote next year. Results won't be known for weeks. The country's constitution allows recall votes halfway through a president's six-year term. Chavez passed that mark in August.

This oil-rich South American nation of 24 million people is sharply divided over Chavez, a former paratrooper who was elected in 1998 and re-elected to a six-year term in 2000. Critics accuse Chavez of becoming increasingly authoritarian and following the example of his close friend, Cuban President Fidel Castro.

In May, the Organization of American States (OAS), the UN and the US-based Carter Center got both sides to agree to play by constitutional rules in anticipation of a possible signature drive.

Chavez predicts opponents won't collect enough signatures to convoke a recall vote. He vowed Friday to win the next presidential elections in 2006 and to hand power over to another "revolutionary in 2013."

"There's no turning back," Chavez said.

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