CARACAS, Venezuela — Hundreds of thousands of foes of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez signed petitions calling for early elections Sunday, even as the leftist leader declared victory over a two-month opposition strike and demanded punishment for its organizers.
The nationwide petition drive was the latest challenge to the populist president of the oil-rich nation. One petition calls for a constitutional amendment reducing Chavez's term from six to four years, so that it would end in 2004. Another would declare Chavez's term over this year and pave the way for immediate elections.
Under the constitution, organizers need signatures from 15%, or 1.8 million, of the country's 12 million registered voters.
Albis Munoz, vice president of Venezuela's largest business chamber, claimed as many as 4 million people signed Sunday. The figure could not be verified. Organizers said they would collect more signatures today.
"We're looking for the fastest way to get out of this crisis," said Freddy Hurtado, 56, an advertising agent. "Given that the president is the cause of the crisis, we're going to get rid of him with our signatures."