CARACAS, Venezuela, Aug. 24 (UPI) -- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's administration vowed to fire high-ranking government employees who supported the opposition's presidential recall referendum efforts Wednesday.
Mayor of Caracas Jorge Rodríguez, a leading member of Maduro's ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela and head of a signature-verification commission established by Maduro's government during the opposition's recall efforts, on Monday said high-ranking employees who do not support late former President Hugo Chavez's socialist revolution will be fired if they do not resign by Wednesday.
"In the public administration we cannot have as managers people who don't support the revolution," Rodríguez said during a press conference. "They have a period of 48 hours to make sure workers in trusted positions, in leadership roles, find other jobs."
Rodríguez said he would disclose the names of employees who supported the Democratic Unity Roundtable opposition coalition's petition efforts to oust Maduro to relevant ministers and public companies. Venezuelan law, which offers wide-ranging protections to most employees, states that employees who hold managerial positions can be fired without reason.
Venezuela has up to 3 million public employees and about half are temporary employees whose jobs depend on contract renewals. The opposition is working to hold the recall referendum, in which Venezuelans will be asked whether Maduro should be removed from the presidency, by the end of the year.
Maduro's approval ratings are usually below 20 percent -- at times dipping into single digits -- meaning the likelihood of his removal is high if a recall referendum is held.
The opposition coalition will need to collect signatures from 20 percent, or about 4 million, of the voting-eligible population within three days to trigger the referendum.
Democratic Unity Roundtable leader Jesus "Chuo" Torrealba in a Venezuelan radio program said Rodríguez's statements amount to "blackmail and extortion."
"It's a violation of the constitutional right to express one's political opinions," Torrealba said.