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Chavez scotts at recall demand

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Aug 21, 2003

Chavez scoffs at demands for recall

CARACAS, Venezuela - Opponents of Hugo Chavez turned in 2.7 million signatures yesterday to demand a referendum on ending his tumultuous presidency, but the Venezuelan leader vowed the only recall this year will be in California.

Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets in the first large opposition protest since a two-month general strike failed to topple the leftist leader this year - renewing a power struggle that promises more unrest in the world's No. 5 oil exporter.

In Argentina, a defiant Chavez vowed in an interview with The Associated Press to defeat any bid to remove him.

He insisted the signatures were fake, saying some belonged to dead people and others were taken from bank registries.

The signatures "appear in every light to be illegal. They don't meet constitutional requirements," Chavez told the AP and Associated Press Television News in Buenos Aires.

"If they manage to arrange a referendum, we'll defeat them," Chavez said. "We've beaten them before and we'll do it again."

At the midpoint of his six-year term, Chavez vowed to crush the remnants of what he called an "oligarchy" that governed this South American nation for 40 years but left 80 percent of its people in poverty.

Critics accuse Chavez of amassing authoritarian power, steering Venezuela toward Cuban-style communism, sympathizing with leftist Colombian rebels and seeking to destroy Venezuela's private sector.

"The people know what they want and that they will have a government that doesn't make pacts with the oligarchy," Chavez said yesterday.

Venezuela's constitution allows citizens to demand a referendum halfway into a president's term. But Chavez has said the only recall to be held this year will be the gubernatorial vote in California.

Dozens of people have been killed in political violence in the past two years. Chavez survived a brief military coup in 2002 and a two-month general strike this year that helped plunge the economy into its worst recession in history.

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