CARACAS, Venezuela, June 3 (UPI) -- Elections officials in Venezuela canceled a planned meeting to determine if a referendum to oust President Nicholas Maduro can proceed while protesters gathered to decry the country's lack of food.
The country's National Election Council was set to decide Thursday if a petition of 1.85 million signatures, the first step in removing Maduro from office, was valid. The council's meeting with opposition leaders, in control of Venezuela's National Assembly since elections in December, was abruptly and indefinitely canceled.
While anti-Maduro forces in the government remained uncertain on how to proceed, opposition spokesman Jesus Torrealba said, "We are going to announce to the nation the steps we will take in the face of this unprecedented situation. We call on the Venezuelan people to remain calm."
Maduro's United Socialist Party says at least 10,000 of the signatures on the petition are fraudulent.
The Roundtable for Democracy, a coalition of opposition parties, ran on a platform of ousting Maduro before the expiration of his term in 2019. They blame the socialist president for social tension caused by an economic crisis. Venezuela has a 700 percent inflation rate, the world's highest, as well as daily power outages, food and medicine shortages, an increase in violent crime, and a paralysis in government.
About 100 protesters in Caracas, the capital, shouting, "No more talk, we want food," got within six blocks of the presidential palace Thursday before they met another group of protesters and were dispersed by police with tear gas.