CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela's embattled President Nicolas Maduro vowed Saturday, June 11, that no referendum on ending his administration would be held until next year.
Maduro's opponents are racing to call a referendum before January 10, as a successful recall vote before that deadline would trigger new elections rather than transfer power to the vice president.
If the opposition meets all requirements with their bid to oust Maduro, "the recall referendum will be held next year. Period," the leftist populist said.
For months now, Maduro has faced increasing hostility, with opponents accusing him of driving oil-rich Venezuela to the brink of economic collapse and launching a marathon process to call a vote on ousting him from office.
"We must respect whatever the electoral authorities" decide, Maduro said at a pro-government event in Caracas.
Opposition members have said that they want the vote to be held in October or November 2016.
But the president insisted that they were too late.
"If they had wanted to seek a referendum this year, they would have to have requested it by January 11 of this year, for them to have had enough time, if all legal requirements were met," Maduro said.
The referendum petition was submitted on May 2.
Maduro's comments came after the National Electoral Board (CNE) announced it would take fingerprint scans from June 20 to 24 to confirm the identity of 1.3 million people who signed the opposition's referendum petition.
Maduro on Saturday said the government would be suing to have the referendum request itself revoked, filing such a measure at the Supreme Court on Monday, June 13. He maintained that fraud was committed, claiming that the rolls of signatures included 11,000 dead people and 2,000 convicts.
In Washington, meanwhile, the Organization of American States announced late Friday, June 10, a special session of its permanent council on June 23 to discuss the situation in Venezuela.
The meeting was called by OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, who warned of an "institutional crisis" in Venezuela that requires "immediate changes in the actions of the executive branch."
Protests, looting and violent crime have been mounting in Venezuela as the country reels from shortages of food, water, medicine and electricity.
On Thursday, police fired tear gas to break up a protest led by lawmakers in the opposition-majority congress, who tried to march on the CNE's headquarters.
A brawl broke out and punches flew when the protesters faced Maduro supporters.
Maduro blamed the violence on his political enemies and vowed to throw the "provocateurs" into prison. – Rappler.com