Venezuelan President Counters Foes

From Reuters

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Saturday joined a signature campaign to unseat some of his enemies in parliament, rallying his supporters a week before a rival referendum drive that aims to vote him out of office.

Cheered by followers in a square near the presidential palace in Caracas, the left-wing leader added his signature to a government-backed petition for a referendum to recall 38 anti-Chavez deputies from the National Assembly.

"We're two different teams.... But it's our turn to bat, and we're scoring all the runs we can," he told reporters, referring to the competing referendum drives by his followers and foes in the world's No. 5 oil exporting nation.

By trying to recall the 38 opponents, the government hopes to bolster its fragile majority in the National Assembly.

The government signature campaign, which started Friday and will end Monday, will test Chavez's support ahead of a four-day opposition signature drive starting next Friday that will try to trigger a referendum on the populist president's rule.

Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, praised the peaceful start of the campaign, contrasting it with the violence that shook Venezuela after a brief coup last year and an opposition strike in December and January.

"I think the country has finally found the peaceful, electoral and constitutional solution that it needed to defuse the intense political tensions it has experienced," Gaviria, who flew in to monitor the signature drives, told reporters.

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