Opposition forces in Venezuela on Friday delivered paperwork containing 3.4 million signatures gathered to support a referendum to cut short the term of President Hugo Chavez.
The Chavez opposition, all members of an umbrella group known as the Democratic Coordinator, delivered to the National Electoral Council (CNE) early Friday paperwork containing 3,467,050 signatures crammed into 250 boxes.
The paperwork was moved aboard two buses from an opposition center in Caracas, where the paperwork had been stored in vaults for safety purposes, to the downtown CNE offices.
The number of signatures is far more than the 2.4 million minimum required by the Constitution to force a referendum on removing an elected official -- in this case the president -- from power.
Volunteers delivered the boxes under police and military escort starting around sunrise.
"We came here to demand respect for the will of millions of Venezuelans," said Julio Borges, an opposition legislator, who was present when the signatures were delivered.
The opposition collected the signatures between Nov. 28 and Dec. 1. Chavez opponents did not deliver them until Friday because they feared the government would change the rules on how to verify the signatures.
The Electoral Council now has 30 days to check their validity, after which a referendum could be called a maximum 97 of days after the council's decision is recorded.
CNE vice president Ezequiel Zamora said the five-member board of directors would meet immediately to set guidelines to verify the signatures.
Chavez has said that he does not fear defeat in a recall referendum, but rather that a "megafraud" is being cooked to remove him from office, and that up to a third of the signatures are false.
The opposition also collected signatures aimed at ousting 27 legislators that support Chavez. Those signatures will be delivered on Tuesday.
Chavez supporters in turn collected signatures aimed at ousting 37 opposition legislators.
Meanwhile in Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said that US officials were pleased with the development.
"As a general comment, we would commend the peaceful, civil and orderly manner in which the signature-delivery process was conducted," Ereli said. "We think that this shows the Venezuelan people's continued efforts to resolve the country's political crisis are peaceful and constitutional and that they are using the instruments of democracy."
Ereli said that US officials are also "pleased" that observers from the Organization of American States and the Carter Center, run by former US president Jimmy Carter, are overseeing the process.
After five years in office, Chavez, a 49-year-old former lieutenant colonel, has already faced down general strikes -- one in 2001, and the other between late last year and early this year -- and survived a 47-hour civilian-military coup in mid-April last year.
Chavez earlier spent two years in prison in 1998 for his role in the failed February 1992 coup against then president Carlos Andres Perez.
Recent polls peg Chavez's popularity rating at around 40 percent, largely as a result of the popular support he enjoys among the country's poor, who make up some 60 percent of Venezuela's 25 million inhabitants.
POINT-BLANK RANGE: Reporters and camera people from several outlets say police officers in Minneapolis had fired tear gas and rubber bullets directly at them Multiple journalists on the ground in Minnesota said they were teargassed and subject to other attacks by police on Saturday evening, a day after the widely condemned arrest of a CNN reporter live on air. Los Angeles Times journalist Molly Hennessy-Fiske, who was reporting outside the Fifth Precinct in Minneapolis, said she was with a group of about a dozen journalists when the Minnesota State Patrol “fired tear gas canisters on us at point blank range.” “I was saying: ‘Where do we go?’ They did not tell us where to go. They didn’t direct us. They just fired on us,” she said
For nearly a decade, the UN Security Council has been frequently paralyzed by Russia’s obstinacy over the Syrian crisis. Today, however, it is the US-China rivalry that has infected a growing array of issues, according to officials and diplomats. As recently as 2017, an understanding between Washington and Beijing allowed the UN on three occasions — involving separate sets of economic sanctions — to project international unity in the face of the North Korean nuclear threat. Three years later, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a ferocious competition erupt between the UN’s two main contributors, prompting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on May
HISTORIC FLIGHT: The astronauts named their capsule ‘Endeavour,’ after the space shuttle on which they both flew, while Elon Musk said he was overcome with emotion Two veteran NASA astronauts headed for the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday after Elon Musk’s SpaceX on Saturday became the first commercial company to launch a rocket carrying humans into orbit, ushering in a new era in space travel. SpaceX’s two-stage Falcon 9 rocket with astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard blasted off flawlessly in a cloud of bright orange flames and smoke from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, for a 19-hour voyage to the space station. “Let’s light this candle,” Hurley, the mission commander, told SpaceX mission control in Hawthorne, California, before liftoff at 3:22pm from NASA’s
INDIA Pride to be preserved The nation would not let its “pride be hurt” in its latest border flare-ups with China, but is determined to settle the dispute through talks, Minister of Defense Rajnath Singh said in a television interview late on Saturday. “Situations arise with China. It has happened before,” Singh said, adding that the government was striving to make sure “tension does not escalate.” The government has turned down US President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate, he said. IRAN Speaker says talks futile Newly elected Parliament Speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf yesterday said that any negotiations with the US would be “futile.” The nation’s