CARACAS (Reuters) - Opposition legislators demanding paperwork needed to help activate a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro chained themselves on Thursday to a stairway of Venezuela's election board.
The incident, led by members of the Justice First party, underlined the deep political tensions in Venezuela where the opposition is seeking to unseat socialist Maduro via popular pressure, a referendum or a constitutional amendment.
Government-leaning institutions are blocking them at every turn, with the National Election Council dragging its feet on the referendum and the Supreme Court striking down measures passed by the opposition-controlled parliament.
Videos circulating on social media showed officials, including a military officer using a bolt-cutter, trying to remove about six politicians from the election board's office in downtown Caracas.
"We are lawmakers! ... Tibisay Lucena, give us the documents!" the protesters shouted, referring to the president of the election board, a reviled figure in opposition circles.
They were seeking paperwork for the first step toward collecting the nearly 4 million signatures needed to trigger the referendum. Venezuela's constitution allows elected officials to be recalled through a referendum once they have served half their term in office.
Maduro, 53, was elected in 2013 to six years in office.
Should he leave office this year, there would be a new presidential election. But if he departs in the last two years of his term, Vice President Aristobulo Isturiz, a Socialist Party stalwart, would take over.
Maduro narrowly won the presidency after the death of his mentor, Hugo Chavez, from cancer, but his popularity has plummeted amid a recession, triple-digit inflation and chronic shortages.
He says the opposition, backed by big business and the United States, is seeking a coup against him.
Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Peter Cooney