Venezuela's opposition says it has enough signatures to push on with a referendum to remove President Maduro. The country is grappling with an economic crisis that has led to power blackouts and drastic food shortages.
Opposition leaders announced they had finished validating more than 400,000 signatures on a petition to recall President Nicolas Maduro - double the amount needed to request a referendum.
"The number of signatures has clearly exceeded the minimum required," said Vicente Bello, coordinator for the referendum effort.
The National Electoral Council (CNE) now has 20 days to review the finding.
The South American nation is suffering an economic crisis sparked by a plunge in prices for its oil exports. The situation has led to severe shortages of food and medicines, violent protests, and calls for Maduro to step down. In a bid to force the president out, Venezuela's opposition has collected more than a million signatures demanding a recall vote.
Of the 1.3 million signatures on the initial petition, at least 200,000 needed to be authenticated in order for the recall process to move to the next stage.
Race against time
Opposition supporters were this week lining up at voting centers around the country to have their fingerprints scanned and signatures validated. Friday was the fifth and final day for those checks to take place.
In the next stage of the lengthy recall procedure, the opposition must collect 4 million signatures - or 20 percent of the electorate - to officially call a full referendum.
The timing is important. If Maduro loses a recall vote before the end of the year, the CNE would call a new election. A loss for the president after January 10, 2017, however, would hand power to his socialist vice president until the term ends in 2019.
More than 7.5 million votes in a referendum would need to be cast against Maduro to remove him from office.
Looting and riots
Maduro has made it clear he will resist efforts to hold a vote this year, and has threatened to decree emergency measures if confronted with violence. Such measures could prevent the recall referendum from taking place altogether.
Extreme food shortages in early June triggered deadly looting and riots, with at least five people killed and 400 arrested.
The opposition has accused Maduro of mismanaging the economy and trying to drag the recall process out as long as possible. The president, on the other hand, has challenged the referendum campaign in the Supreme Court, and blames the food crisis on an "economic war" waged by the business elite and Western governments.
nm/bk (AFP, EFE)