Venezuela
People gather outside a validation centre during Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) second phase of verifying signatures for a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela 20 June 2016REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

Thousands of Venezuelans who signed a petition earlier this month for a recall referendum to oust President Nicolas Maduro, lined up on Monday to have their signatures validated by electoral authorities.

According to reports, about 200,000 signatures are required for the process to move forward. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said about 700,000 turned up to have their signatures validated on Monday. "What we saw today were queues across the country. That's a warning for Maduro," the BBC quoted him as saying.

This will then lead to a second officially sanctioned signature drive, which will have to garner around 4 million votes to trigger the recall referendum.

Socialist President Nicolas Maduro was elected in 2013 after the death of Hugo Chavez and his term runs until 2019. The opposition and the public blame his policies for the rising inflation, food, medicine and water shortages in the country.

Those who signed the petition have until 24 June to have their identity cards and finger prints checked by the National Electoral Council (CNE).

The petition had more than 2 million signatures on 2 May when the opposition handed over the application to the electoral council but the council rejected it saying 600,000 signatures were fraudulent.

The oil rich country has been driven to near economic collapse after a slump in oil prices. However, the government hit back saying the problems of the country, including the world's highest inflation and shortage of goods are due to an economic war led by businesses with US backing.

Maduro and his supporters say that the referendum will not take place this year because the opposition took too long to start the referendum campaign.

If the referendum is held before 10 January and the vote goes against Maduro, fresh elections will be announced. Losing the referendum after January would mean he will be effectively replaced by his vice president and supporter, Aristobulo Isturiz.