Thousands line up to support recall of Venezuela president


22 June, 2016

Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE) on Monday launched the validation process of 1,352,052 signatures on a petition to hold a recall referendum on President Nicolas Maduro.

This week the electoral authorities have called on the signatories to verify their support with their identification and fingerprints. The opposition says he must be removed to rescue the South American country from economic disaster.

After that, the opposition must gather a total four million signatures to demand a referendum be held.

The authentication process is scheduled to run until Friday.

People wait in a line outside a sports coliseum set up as a validation center to certify the authenticity of petitioners' signatures, in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, June 21, 2016.

Henrique Capriles said 37% of the 195,000 signatures needed to trigger the next phase of the recall referendum were collected on the first day.

The oil-rich country once was awash in money, but oil prices have fallen and so have the fortunes of Venezuela.

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People face shortages of basic foods and goods as well as electricity blackouts. They denounce the jailing of his political opponents. Shannon led diplomatic efforts a year ago to ease tensions but the talks were stalled by Venezuela's deepening crisis.

The Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, the coalition of opposition parties that is leading this process, has rolled out a special operation to help citizens who wish to validate their signatures, which even includes transporting them to the centers set up for that objective. Authorities said at least five people were killed and more than 400 arrested.

Maduro has said that the recall referendum will definitely take place in 2017 against the wishes of the opposition, who want to see the vote held this year. Losing a referendum after January means he would be replaced by his vice president, effectively leaving the Socialist Party in power.

Maduro has challenged the referendum drive as unconstitutional in the Supreme Court. However many were skeptical that the government will actually let the recall proceed.

The head of the electoral council Tibisay Lucena warned that any violence during this week's proceedings could cause the process to be suspended.

Output from Venezuela, which sits atop the world's biggest oil reserves, was 2.37 million barrels per day in May, down 5% from April and 11% from last year's average, according to Opec data.

The country is running out of cash to import food, medicine and other basic goods, most of which it buys from overseas. The United States, it seems, is Maduro's last ray of hope, because Brazil and Argentina have been increasingly critical of his policies.

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