updated 6/8/2004 9:25:54 PM ET 2004-06-09T01:25:54

President Hugo Chavez will face a recall referendum, the elections council said Tuesday, setting the date of Aug. 15 for the vote.

Venezuela’s opposition had compiled 2.54 million votes to demand the recall, surpassing the 2.43 million needed as set by the constitution, elections council president Francisco Carrasquero said

It was the first formal announcement by the council that Chavez would face a recall since the officials projected a likely vote based on preliminary signature totals last week.

Chavez has since accepted that he would face a recall and launched a campaign in which he predicts he will plaster his opponents in “a decisive battle.”

Elections council vice president Ezequiel Zamora told reporters that the five-member council voted unanimously Tuesday to set the date.

The referendum date is key. While officials initially indicated the vote would be held Aug. 8, Chavez’s government wanted it to happen Aug. 15, saying the extra time is needed install a new automated voting system.

An automated vote would deter opposition fraud, the government argues. Venezuela’s opposition fears glitches in the untested system could postpone referendum results.

Venezuela’s opposition demanded an Aug. 8 manual count — to assure results are in well before Aug. 19, which marks the completion of the fourth year of Chavez’s six-year term.

Should Chavez lose a recall before Aug. 19, new elections would be held within a month. After Aug. 19, his vice president, Jose Vicente Rangel, would serve out the remainder of Chavez’s term. Opponents fear Chavez would simply rule behind the scenes in that event.

To recall Chavez, Venezuela’s opposition needs more than the 3.7 million votes he won during his re-election to a six-year term in 2000.

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