Maduro camp cries fraud in Venezuela recall vote drive

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Caracas (AFP)

Allies of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused his opponents Monday of fraud in their petition for a vote on removing him from office, saying 10,000 people who supposedly signed it are dead.

With Venezuela mired in a punishing economic crisis, Maduro's opponents are racing to fulfill the requirements to call a recall referendum against him.

They are hoping to clear a first hurdle Thursday, when electoral authorities are due to finish reviewing an initial batch of 1.8 million signatures backing a recall vote.

But the leftist leader's allies alleged the petition -- the first of two required -- was riddled with fraud.

"I state with full responsibility that at this time we have detected 10,000 deceased people signing," said Jorge Rodriguez, the head of a commission appointed by Maduro to oversee the process.

He alleged more than 40 percent of the signatures were fraudulent in separate comments Sunday.

If the electoral board accepts the preliminary petition, signatories will then be asked to confirm their decision in person and prove their identity via fingerprint scans.

The opposition would then have to collect four million signatures on a second petition to trigger a referendum.

Maduro's opponents are racing to hold a referendum before January 10, four years into Maduro's six-year term.

After that date, a successful recall vote would pass power to the vice president rather than trigger new elections.

The opposition accuses Maduro's camp of stalling.

Venezuela, home to the world's largest oil reserves, has been on a downward spiral since a collapse in global crude prices began in mid-2014.

Empty supermarket and pharmacy shelves, long lines and soaring prices have become daily realities, aggravated by en electricity crisis that has forced the government to impose rolling blackouts, reduce its workweek to two days and close schools on Fridays.

More than two thirds of Venezuelans want Maduro to go, according to polls.

The socialist president says he is the victim of a plot by the United States, the Organization of American States and the "fascist Venezuelan right."

Rodriguez called on Maduro's supporters to protest against the OAS's "vulgar and brutal interference" with rallies on Wednesday in Caracas and Saturday in the rest of the country.