President ousting process can start: Venezuelan opposition

Caracas:  The Venezuelan opposition has confirmed that it was ready to start the process to bring about a referendum to oust President Nicolas Maduro. The mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, imprisoned since February 2015, released a message on Saturday in which he congratulated the Venezuelan people for "the heroic journey made this week," noting the effort resulted in hundreds of thousands of citizens validating their signatures to trigger a referendum, EFE news reported. On Friday, after a five-day effort, the National Electoral Council (CNE) validated 1.3 million signatures needed to start the recall. Throughout the five days, the Venezuelan opposition gathered at the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) reported that the ruling party put up electoral obstacles to block this process of validation and therefore only about 400,000 signatures had been validated. Now the opposition hopes to connect with the will of 20 percent of the Electoral Registry, equivalent to about four million people. In his message, Ledezma issued a series of guidelines for activation of the referendum and asked to identify and overcome obstacles, as well as incorporate all the opposition sectors. "We need to face the chicanery that slyly pretends to follow the rules of the CNE, in boycotting compliance with the new stages of the recall referendum," said the mayor, who is under house arrest. At this point, Ledezma, who has been accused of conspiring against the government of Maduro, said the "unexpected supervening rules" of the CNE and its requirement of 1 percent is what he called "a sign to know what to expect". The mayor said that the next steps that must happen to trigger the recall are in the hands of the MUD and noted that "the priority" is to ensure that the CNE "issues the certification of the effectiveness of the signatures verified in the validation process". He said that "it is also essential to open the doors to humanitarian support for Venezuelans, coordinated by the UN and within the country by religious movements and NGOs, able to reach every corner of Venezuela with food and medicines." Also, the head of the Venezuelan opposition bloc in Parliament Julio Borges said that the House issued a report on the abuses suffered by hundreds of people during the validation process of signatures. "We will report on those who couldn't be validated and every abuse will be noted," Borges said on his Twitter account, noting that in this way it could be known who wanted to perform the procedure and did not. Hundreds of Venezuelans have reported that during the validation period they were victims of harassment and ill-treatment by military units and other groups. Buses carrying the signatories were robbed, and people not wearing long pants or long skirts were denied the ability to validate their signatures, moves that were denounced by a number of Venezuelans calling for a recall, some of the complainants told EFE news.