Caracas, Venezuela Elections officials Tuesday began verifying more than 2 million signatures attached to an opposition petition for a nonbinding referendum on President Hugo Chavez's presidency.
Venezuela's opposition wants the vote to be held Dec. 4, 30 days after it delivered the petition on Monday. Elections officials, however, said it could take a month just to verify the signatures and weeks more to arrange any referendum.
Opposition leaders say that even though a yes-or-no vote on Chavez would be nonbinding, it would measure the president's support and perhaps embarrass him into resigning.
Rising unemployment, a collapse in the national currency, the unsolved slayings of dozens during a brief April coup and a paralyzed judicial system fuel opposition claims that Chavez no longer can govern.
Venezuela's opposition has threatened to start an indefinite general strike that could affect oil production if Chavez fights a nonbinding referendum.
Venezuela is a major U.S. oil supplier. Chavez has irked the Bush administration in the past with his suspected ties with leftist Colombian rebels, his close friendship with Cuba's Fidel Castro, and his opposition to hemispheric free trade. Chavez has insisted, however, that Venezuela will remain a reliable supplier of crude to the United States.