Venezuela protesters seek symbolic Maduro smack-down


Venezuela’s opposition held nationwide rallies Wednesday against President Nicolas Maduro, seeking to show its strength by having protesters sign largely symbolic petitions calling for him to face a recall referendum.

The rallies amounted to a dress-rehearsal for an official petition drive later this month, when the opposition will have just three days to gather the four million signatures required to force a recall vote.

That process, scheduled for October 26 to 28, will be overseen by electoral authorities at 1,356 designated sites across the country.

But the opposition, which accuses Maduro of steering Venezuela into economic crisis, is hoping to score a symbolic victory before then.

“We’re getting ourselves organized, because we will have to collect signatures from more than 20 percent of the electorate,” said Ismael Dacorte, a 51-year-old lawyer, as the Caracas rally got under way.

“If we get seven or eight million (signatures), it will send a message to Maduro that we want change now,” he told AFP.

As plunging crude prices have pushed oil-rich Venezuela to the brink of economic collapse, the harried center-right opposition has settled on a recall referendum as the best strategy to get rid of Maduro.

But electoral authorities have already dashed its hopes of ending 17 years of leftist rule.

They ruled in September that a recall referendum could only be held after January 10 — the cut-off date to trigger a new presidential election, rather than simply transfer power to Maduro’s hand-picked vice president until the end of his term in 2019.

Outrage is mounting in Venezuela over severe shortages of food and basic goods, long lines, soaring prices, and rampant crime.

But the fragmented opposition has struggled to stop the powerful political machine launched in 1999 by Maduro’s mentor, the late president Hugo Chavez.

© 2016 AFP

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