Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has said a potential recall referendum against him will not be held before 2017. The opposition has blamed Maduro for the country's dismal economy in recent years.
The president's televised statement on Saturday came as the opposition races to hold the anti-Maduro referendum before the end of 2016. A vote this year would automatically prompt new elections, but a later vote would simply see Maduro succeeded by his vice president.
"There will be no blackmailing here," Maduro said. "If the recall referendum's requirements are met, it will be next year and that's it."
"If the requirements aren't met, there will be no referendum and that's it," he added.
The opposition has accused Maduro of driving Venezuela to the brink of collapse.
Since he took office in 2013, the South American nation has suffered an economic implosion resulting in severe shortages of food, electricity, medicine and other basic products.
Despite having the world's largest crude oil reserves, Venezuela has also been hit hard by falling global prices.
In response to the crisis, Maduro recently announced various measures aimed to alleviate the hardships faced by many. Among them were calls for people to stop using electric hair dryers and ironing their clothes, as well as a shorter working week for shops and government offices.
Weeks of demonstrations
In their bid to remove Maduro from office, the opposition has also staged several protests in recent weeks. On Tuesday, some 1,000 demonstrators were held back with tear gas as police prevented them from reaching the National Electorate Board (CNE). The opposition claims the board is stalling the recall process in a bid to protect Maduro.
Protesters from the opposition have tried multiple times to reach the National Electorate Board (CNE)
In a small step of success for the opposition, however, the election board said on Friday that it would begin validating the signatures of citizens seeking the referendum, one of the requirements necessary to proceed to a vote.
International mediators, led by Spain's former Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, are trying to bring the government and opposition together for talks, but both sides have so far shown reluctance.
ksb/cmk (Reuters, AFP)