- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

CARACAS, Venezuela In a setback for opposition efforts to oust Hugo Chavez, the Supreme Court late yesterday indefinitely postponed a nationwide referendum that would have asked Venezuelans whether the president should quit.
Hours later, Mr. Chavez moved to bolster Venezuela's strike-damaged economy, saying he would impose foreign exchange controls to prevent Venezuela's currency from further plummeting. The Central Bank had suspended foreign currency trading earlier in the day.
The decision came just 11 days before the vote. The decision stunned the opposition, which had delivered 2 million signatures in November to demand the referendum and backed it up with a strike that has lasted 52 days. It was also to pay for the vote because Mr. Chavez's government refused to do so.
Opposition leaders reacted angrily to the court's decision, contending that Mr. Chavez's government was acting through the court to cling to power despite international pressure to find an electoral solution to end the political crisis.
Government leaders rejected the claim, noting that the opposition has embraced past court decisions against the Chavez government including a ruling clearing four high-ranking officers of rebellion charges in a brief April coup.
Justices ruled that no national vote can be held until it decides whether elections council member Leonardo Pizani, who helped organize the referendum, is eligible to serve on the panel.

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