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Tensions rise in Venezuela after government blocks referendum bid

The political opposition has been waging an ongoing campaign to try and oust embattled President Maduro. But the president has been using the powers and influence of his office to block his political opponents.

The political crisis is escalating in Venezuela after the government blocked the opposition's ongoing efforts to hold a referendum this year to remove President Nicolas Maduro from office.

The country's electoral commission suspended a signature-collection drive, which is part of the process of organizing a referendum. The commission cited court orders from four states, which halted the petition drive, noting significant cases of fraud.

Watch video 01:05

Protests against the government continue

The political opposition slammed the commission's ruling, calling it undemocratic and nothing more than a cover to allow the Socialist president to cling to power. Polls show Maduro would likely get thumped in an early referendum, with his support levels down around 20 percent.

The political opposition,  Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), also known as the Democratic Unity Roundtable, says the government's ham-fisted maneuvers risk pushing the country towards a violent confrontation. And they took to Twitter to voice their outrage and determination.

"We have a government of thieves using power to maintain itself," opposition lawmaker Jorge Millán said on Twitter. "But in the street the people are demanding a recall, and no one will stop us!"

Maduro's rivals say that by closing off a democratic solution to the crisis, the government is stoking chances of unrest in the country.

"The government is pushing a very dangerous scenario in which the crisis worsens," opposition leader Henrique Capriles said on Twitter.

The oil-rich OPEC nation has been waylaid by low oil prices over the past two years. The country is now beset by shortages of food and medicines and triple digit inflation rates.

In 2013 Maduro succeeded his mentor, the popular Hugo Chavez after his death. But since then he has seen his popular support steadily decline.

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Venezuela: no medicine for sick children

His government had already said there will be no recall referendum this year. Were Maduro to lose a plebiscite before January 10, 2017 an early election would likely strip Maduro's party of political power. But if Maduro were to fall after the opening days of the New Year then he would select his hand-picked Vice President Diosdado Cabello to finish his term, which runs until 2019.

In a speech after the council's announcement, Caballo slammed the referendum organizers as criminals, "Let us hope that those responsible will now be sought out and detained and go to prison for the deception they have committed."

bik/rg (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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