Stores and schools are closed and rush-hour traffic noticeably lighter as many residents in Venezuela's capital have stayed home to express their opposition to President Nicolas Maduro.

The 12-hour work stoppage comes as the opposition steps up its campaign to force the embattled socialist from office after authorities canceled a recall referendum seeking his removal.

Senior officials have threatened to expropriate businesses that close. But major employers have insisted Friday's work stoppage is a grassroots protest and not a lockout aimed at sabotaging the already crippled economy.

The stoppage recalls opposition tactics used in 2002 ahead of a coup against then President Hugo Chavez.

But while Chavez is still revered, his successor is widely unpopular. Polls show three out of four Venezuelans want Maduro out of office this year.