Venezuela's opposition has collected enough valid signatures to move forward with its attempt to oust President Nicolas Maduro in a referendum, organizers said.
More than 400,000 voters ratified their ratified their petition signatures with fingerprints, opposition leader Henrique Capriles said.
"The total national validation, in spite of all the obstacles, is 409,313 signatures. The annulment will happen in 2016," the former presidential candidate said.
At least 195,721 signatures, or 1 per cent of registered voters, are necessary to move to the next step in the process, according to the National Electoral Council.
Capriles said many more voters were ready to validate their signatures, but it was not necessary when the total had already doubled the council's requirements.
The next step would be for the electoral council to officially approve the signatures, and set a deadline for a second petition, which would require 20 per cent of voters, or about 4 million signatures, to activate the referendum process.
The beleaguered president is intent on resisting the opposition's efforts, referring to a referendum as "an option, not an obligation."
Maduro was elected in April 2013. His term ends in 2019.
The oil-rich country has been spiralling into severe economic decline for the past few years, now beset by shortages of basic goods such as flour, milk, meat and toilet paper.
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