Maduro's opponents were hoping to mount a fresh petition next week, the last stage necessary for calling a referendum
Courts ruled against the Venezuelan opposition's efforts to remove the crisis-stricken country's president Nicolas Maduro, officials said, in a move that could block the recall drive for good.
It was the latest blow for the center right-dominated opposition, whose aim of forcing a referendum this year through a series of preliminary petitions now looks practically impossible.
Socialist President Nicolas Maduro has vowed to hold on to power in the South American oil exporter, where an economic crisis has prompted food shortages and looting.
The pro-Maduro governors of the states of Apure, Aragua, Bolivar, Carabobo and Monagas announced on Thursday that local judges had annulled the results of the last petition, held in June, in their states because of alleged fraud in the counting of signatures.
Maduro's number two Diosdado Cabello said later in a speech: "Let us hope that those responsible will now be sought out and detained and go to prison for the deception they have committed."
The opposition MUD coalition says Maduro and his allies control the courts and electoral authorities and are using them to cling to power.
Maduro's opponents were hoping to mount a fresh petition next week, the last stage necessary for calling a referendum.
Electoral authorities had warned that if the first-round petition was annulled in any state, that key stage in the referendum process would be void.
But the chances of Maduro being removed by referendum this year already looked impossibly slim. The electoral authorities have said a referendum could not take place before mid-January.
Under constitutional rules, if voters do not remove Maduro from office by January 10, his hand-picked vice president will finish his term, which ends in 2019.