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Venezuela President Orders Public Worker Firings Over Referendum Call

FILE - Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a visit to an industrial sawmill in Chaguaramas, Venezuela, Aug. 18, 2016.

President Nicolas Maduro has set a 48-hour deadline for ministers to dismiss some public workers who requested a recall referendum against him, a Socialist Party spokesman said Monday.

Hundreds of public workers have already said they were dismissed for signing a petition for a referendum against the unpopular president, according to testimony seen by Reuters, human rights groups and local media.

"Today, by order of the party president Nicolas Maduro, five ministries ... cannot have people that are against the Revolution and the president in management positions in ministries, public institutions, local government and municipalities," said Jorge Rodriguez, the leader of the Socialist Party in Venezuela.

"They have a deadline of 48 hours," said Rodriguez.

The ministries cited by Rodriguez were food, basic industries and finance among others.

Venezuela's constitution allows a recall referendum halfway through a president's six-year term. The opposition is pushing for a referendum against Maduro, blaming him for an economic and social crisis.

Supermarket queues are in the hundreds or thousands, with lootings and food riots a daily occurrence. Shortages, triple digit inflation and a deep recession have pushed Maduro's approval ratings to near its lowest since he was elected president in 2013.

The opposition accuses the electoral council of stalling the process for a referendum so that it takes place next year. If that happens and Maduro loses, his Vice President would become president, keeping the Socialist Party in power.

In 2004, during the campaign for a referendum against former president Hugo Chavez, government lawmaker Luis Tascon published a list of more than 2.4 million Venezuelans who signed in favor of a referendum.

Many lost jobs and were marginalized from state services and the "Tascon List" became notorious.