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Venezuela's elections for state governorships have been postponed until next year, a move denounced by the opposition as unconstitutional.

The polls had been expected in December, but the election board said they would now be held around mid-2017.

Opinion polls have suggested the government of President Nicolas Maduro would fare badly in the elections.

He recently said that economic recovery and not elections were the priority for the country.

Venezuela has seen three years of deep recession, with inflation expected to top 700% this year. There are huge shortages of food and medicines, and looting is widespread.

Mr Maduro, who replaced the late Hugo Chavez in 2013, has seen his approval ratings plummet to just over 20%.

His term runs until 2019 but the opposition is seeking to end it early by securing enough signatures to trigger a recall referendum.

'Dangerous trend'
Announcing the delay, National Election Board head, Tibisay Lucena, gave no reason for it.

Government officials quoted by Reuters have said exceptional measures are needed to counter what they describe as a US-led economic war against the nation.

The opposition Democratic Unity coalition denounced the election delay, saying: "This decision by the election board is part of a dangerous trend by a regime clearly acting outside the constitution."

Opposition parties won control of the legislature last year in a landslide.

Mr Maduro said on Tuesday opposition parties would have to re-register with the electoral board to be eligible for the delayed polls.

"If they flout the law... then the governor elections will come and we will participate [alone]... It's a real, possible, probable scenario," he said.

His supporters staged a rally in the capital, Caracas, on Tuesday

Key Maduro aide Diosdado Cabello told them: "Nicolas Maduro was elected president and he must finish his term."

Flowchart explaining the steps of the recall referendum

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