The Venezuelan government will fire senior civil servants for signing a petition linked to ousting President Nicolas Maduro, according to Maduro's top aide. Hundreds of people claim they already lost their jobs.
The president sent out lists of employees to be fired from posts on the ministries of food, finance, work, basic business, and the presidential office, according to his associate Jorge Rodriguez.
"They have 48 hours to see to it that these people who are in so-called positions of responsibility - managerial jobs - get a different professional destiny," Socialist party leader said late Monday.
By signing the petition that could lead to Maduro's recall, the public workers "publicly expressed their closeness to the Venezuelan right," he told reporters.
"People who are against President Nicolas Maduro's revolution cannot be in management positions... in ministries, public institutions, or state or local governments," Rodriguez added.
Maduro's administration faces enormous pressure as the country continues its downward spiral. Food and medicine shortages, looting, energy crisis and inflation have raised tensions in the South American nation of 32 million, prompting the opposition to demand a recall referendum.
Echoes of Chavez
The road to the recall, however, is extremely complicated. The opposition has managed to gather over 200,000 signatures for the first stage of the process, but still needs to collect around four million more in a separate petition before the vote could be scheduled.
Government opponents accuse electoral officials of dragging their feet to protect the president. The opposition aims to hold the vote before January 10, which would force the government to schedule new elections if Maduro lost. A later vote would see Maduro replaced by his vice president until 2019.
Hundreds of ex-government employees claim they were fired for signing the petition, even before the Tuesday announcement.
The news reminded many Venezuelans of a failed bid to oust late Hugo Chavez in 2004, which also saw Caracas retaliate against political opponents.
dj/jil (AP, Reuters, AFP)