Venezuela opposition says petition to oust Maduro is validated
Venezuelan opposition leaders say they have validated enough signatures on a petition to move to the next stage in a process to remove President Nicolas Maduro in a recall referendum.
Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have given fingerprints to authenticate signatures on the petition.
Referendum co-ordinator Vicente Bello said the number of signatures had "clearly exceeded the minimum needed".
The process must now be validated by electoral officials.
If that step is passed, a second petition must be signed by four million people before a recall referendum can be held.
The opposition blames Mr Maduro's socialist policies for rampant inflation and shortages of food and basic goods.
The initial petition handed in on 2 May gathered almost two million signatures but election officials said 600,000 of those were fraudulent.
Those who signed the petition had until Friday to have their identity cards and fingerprints checked in centres set up by the National Electoral Council (CNE).
Only 1% of the electorate, or 194,729 voters, is needed to endorse the referendum in the first phase.
Many people queued for hours to have their signatures authenticated by electronic fingerprinting.
"Prices are going up every day, on top of the shortages," said civil servant Felix Rodriguez, who skipped work to give his signature.
He said he had no flour, milk or meat in his kitchen and there were no spare parts to repair his car.
Opposition leaders want the recall vote to be held this year, as its timing is key for what happens next.
If the referendum is held before 10 January and goes against Mr Maduro, fresh elections will be triggered.
But if the vote were to be held after 10 January - in the last two years of Mr Maduro's mandate - he would be replaced by his vice-president and supporter, Aristobulo Isturiz.
Mr Maduro was elected in April 2013 and his term runs until 2019.
Steps towards the recall referendum
- 1% of voters on the electoral roll have to sign a petition within 30 days to kick-start the process
- Signatures have to be validated
- 20% of voters (almost four million) have to sign a second petition in order to trigger the referendum
- For the referendum to be successful, an equal or greater number of voters than those who elected Mr Maduro would have to cast their vote in favour of the recall - he won the 2013 election with 7,587,579 votes