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Venezuela elections body suspends recall vote against Maduro

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Venezuela's government suspended a referendum process against President Nicolas Maduro late Thursday after four local courts ruled to put the process on hold.

[MEXICO CITY] Venezuela's government suspended a referendum process against President Nicolas Maduro late Thursday after four local courts ruled to put the process on hold.

The National Electoral Council, in a statement posted on its website, said a planned signature collection effort needed to formally activate the recall vote scheduled for next week was "paralysed" pending clarification from the courts.

The council acted after the governors of the states of Carabobo, Apure, Aragua and Bolivar said their local courts had ruled to suspend the recall process due to allegations of fraud at an earlier stage of the process.

The council's announcement presents a further challenge to the opposition's avowed mission to recall Mr Maduro in the wake of triple-digit inflation and the economy's collapse. On Monday, Venezuela's Supreme Court ruled that the opposition needed to collect signatures from 20 per cent of registered voters in each state, instead of in the overall population, in order to activate the vote.

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Citing the constitution, the council said it "accepts the measures ordered by the courts and has issued instructions to postpone the process of collection until a further court decision."

The council called on the government and opposition to hold a dialogue as a democratic means to "preserve peace and stability."

The CNE, as the council is known, has dragged its feet over the process, saying a potential referendum vote would be pushed into 2017, too late to hold fresh elections. The opposition, since winning legislative elections last year, has pushed for a recall referendum on Mr Maduro's rule. The legislature and executive remain at loggerheads, paralysing the democratic process.

Opposition Governor Henrique Capriles, writing on Twitter, responded to the CNE decision saying the opposition coalition would speak to the nation about a move that "pushes toward a dangerous scenario and aggravates the crisis." Mr Maduro said Thursday he was flying to Iran to kick off a "lightning" tour of oil producing countries as Opec seeks to cut output and raise prices. He said he planned to return to the South American country by Monday. He will also visit Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and Qatar, according to a government statement.

"Maduro declared himself in disobedience, he doesn't respect the constitution, he abandoned the country today and is headed toward abandoning it completely!" Mr Capriles wrote in a separate Twitter post.

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