Opponents of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez formed long lines across the country Friday, to sign petitions calling for his ouster.

The opposition hopes to collect the necessary 2.4 million signatures required to force a vote next year on whether the president should be removed from office.

In the capital, Caracas, troops were on hand to keep the peace as thousands of enthusiastic residents drove through the streets honking horns, waving flags and calling for the president's ouster.

Opponents of Mr. Chavez say he is gradually turing the oil-producing state into a communist dictatorship.

President Chavez - who has survived a 2002 coup and a general strike earlier this year - says the opposition will fail to secure the necessary votes to call for his removal.

International observers are on-hand for the signature drive, which will end Monday.