Venezuela referendum rejected

At least five people have died in street violence since Friday, and dozens have been wounded.

Venezuela’s elections council said on Tuesday the opposition does not have enough signatures to force a recall referendum.

Chavez opponents say they submitted more than 3.4 million signatures; however the council claims only 1.83 million of these are valid, falling short of the minimum 2.4 million needed.

But council president Francisco Carrasquero said 876,000 signatures could be reconfirmed by the signers in a special repair period later this month.

Voters whose signatures are disputed have between March 18 and March 22 to report to voting centres to confirm they signed the petition.

But oppositionists claim the complex process is a tactic to scuttle the vote.

“There is no other way but to accept this decision,” said Mr Carrasquerro.

“If someone does not accept it, they will be acting outside the law.”

His comments come as troops firing tear gas clashed with anti-government protesters in several cities.

One demonstrator was shot dead in Valencia.

Opposition leaders defended the validity of the signatures and have rejected the repair period.

They have called on the Organisation of American States and the Atlanta-based Carter Centre, mediators in the Venezuelan turmoil, to urge electoral officers to reconsider.

“The recall process that has been under way in Venezuela remains the best constitutional option for achieving national reconciliation in Venezuela and preserving Venezuela’s status as a democratic society,” said White House spokesman Scott McLennan.

“We are increasingly concerned about the situation in Venezuela. We have some real concerns about it,” he said.

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