Effort to recall Venezuela's Chavez falters

March 02, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

CARACAS, Venezuela - A campaign by opposition groups for a recall referendum to try to oust President Hugo Chavez appeared on the brink of collapse yesterday.

Opposition leaders, expecting election officials to disqualify enough of the 3.4 million signatures they have collected for a recall to keep the measure off the ballot, accused Chavez of unfairly influencing the process.

Protesters battled National Guard troops across the country in anti-government demonstrations that began Friday.

The opposition has tried to dislodge Chavez, a populist elected in 1998, through a coup attempt in 2002 and four national strikes. Since last year, the broad-based opposition movement has worked for a referendum.

But yesterday, the probability of a vote seemed slim as the five-member National Electoral Council argued with the Carter Center over whether the U.S.-based rights center would continue its role as a mediator here.

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