V enezuela's National Electoral Council has postponed a key meeting with opposition leaders in which they were expected to announce whether to allow a recall referendum.
More than 1.85 million signatures have been collected in favour of a referendum to oust President Nicolas Maduro - far in excess of the 197,000 required to initiate the process.
Tensions within the country are mounting with increasing shortages of many basic goods and foodstuffs. President Maduro has accused his political opponents of trying to mount a coup against him, backed by overseas forces.
The opposition Roundtable for Democracy (MUD) coalition, which won a significant majority in elections at the end of last year, have promised to remove President Maduro from office before his term runs out in 2019. However their efforts have so far been thwarted by the president and the Supreme Court, several members of which were appointed by the president shortly before the election took place.
Electoral authorities have said at least 10,000 of the signatures on the petition are forgeries, nevertheless it appeared the government had accepted the document earlier in the week. The delay is likely to reflect the government’s intention to delay a referendum for as long as possible. Should an election be delayed until 2017 the presidency, in the event of a vote against Mr. Maduro, would be passed to his deputy, who would see out the term for the United Socialist Party (PSUV). A swifter defeat however would necessitate fresh elections.
Following the first petition (which needs to collect 1% of voter signatures) a second petition requiring the signatures of 20% of the country’s voters - in effect nearly 4 million names - would trigger a referendum. More than 7,587,579 votes (the tally Mr. Maduro achieved in 2013) would then be needed to oust Mr. Maduro from office.
International pressure is mounting against Mr. Maduro. The leader of the Organisation of American States, Luis Almagro, has accused him of usurping the country’s constitution and has called for the country’s membership of the group to be suspended. Brazil’s government has similarly called on Venezuela to be barred from holding the rotating chair of the trading group Mercosur, while this week Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo warned the country now risks a violent, popular uprising.
Scores of protests have taken place in the capital Caracas and other cities in the country. The police used teargas to disperse a protest near to the Miraflores palace on Thursday, a part of the city usually considered a government stronghold.
The BBC reports on the authorities’ decision to postpone talks.
For the New York Times, Nick Casey looks at the OAS rebuke to the Maduro government.
Merco Press has details on Brazil’s objections to Venezuelan policies.
The Latin American Herald Tribune is reporting the violence in the capital.