EFECaracas

Courts in five of Venezuela's 23 states issued injunctions Thursday to halt the collection of signatures in favor of recalling President Nicolas Maduro, officials said.

"Criminal court of Aragua annuls the process of signature collection and orders repair of the FRAUD committed by the MUD (opposition coalition)," the governor of the central state, Tareck El Aissami, said on Twitter.

The governors of the central state of Carabobo, Francisco Ameliach; and the southeastern state of Bolivar, Francisco Rangel Gomez; said that courts in their jurisdictions handed down similar injunctions.

Later, the deputy chair of the governing leftist PSUV party, Diosdado Cabello, said during a political event that courts in the northeastern state of Monagas and the southern state Apure had likewise ruled favorably on challenges to the recall effort.

Aragua, Carabobo, Bolivia, Monagas and Apure are all governed by the PSUV.

The court rulings cast doubt on the authenticity of signatures the MUD delivered to the CNE electoral council in May as the first step in the process to convene a recall vote.

"More than 62,688 signatures in Carabobo were fraudulent, this represents 31 percent of the total of signatures presented by the MUD," Gov. Ameliach said.

In May, the MUD presented the CNE with 1.8 million signatures, many times the 200,000 - equal to 1 percent of registered voters - needed to initiate the procedure.

The CNE ultimately validated 400,000 signatures and the process moved to the second stage, which involves garnering support from 20 percent of the electorate to schedule a vote on removing the president.

The drive to meet the 20 percent threshold was tentatively scheduled for next week, but the court decisions announced Thursday are likely to have an impact on those plans.

The opposition is anxious for the referendum to take place before the end of this year, as a 2016 vote to oust Maduro would automatically trigger a new presidential election.

If the plebiscite is delayed until 2017, a loss for Maduro would mean that his vice president serves the balance of his term.