Mar 4, 10:13 PM EST

Maduro rejects speculation he'll suspend Venezuela elections


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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- President Nicolas Maduro is rejecting speculation that he is considering suspending Venezuela's legislative elections later this year.

Maduro said Wednesday that even under the most adverse circumstances he would go forward with the vote.

"Rain, thunder or lightning, this country is going to have parliamentary elections in 2015," Maduro told supporters at a rally.

Support for Maduro's socialist administration has fallen off sharply as Venezuela's economy has plunged deeper into crisis marked by widespread shortages and inflation over 60 percent. The president's approval rating in January stood at 22 percent, the lowest since the revolution started by the late President Hugo Chavez in 1999.

Venezuela's opposition has warned of an anti-democratic crackdown after Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma was jailed last month on charges he was plotting with the U.S. to overthrow Maduro. Ledezma denies the accusations, as does Washington, and Maduro's government has yet to present convincing evidence of the purported plot.

Earlier Wednesday, former opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said Maduro feared an electoral rout and suggested that the president's talk of coup plots is meant to set the stage for a cancellation of the vote.

Maduro alluded to the possibility of destabilizing actions by his enemies in the run-up to the elections but said he has faith voters will hand the government a big victory.

The opposition is hoping to sweep the legislative vote, which must take place before year's end, and then launch a recall referendum in an effort to force Maduro from office sometime in 2016.

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