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Friday, August 6, 1999 Published at 01:22 GMT 02:22 UK

World: Americas

Venezuelan president demands longer term

President Chavez reaches out to supporters outside the Assembly

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has called on the country's new constitutional assembly to extend the length of presidential terms to six years and to allow incumbents to be re-elected.

If enacted, it could open the way for President Chavez to stay in power for 12 years.

The BBC's Raymond Collett in Caracas: "Historical and Biblical symbolism"
Currently the Venezuelan president is only allowed to serve five years and is not permitted to stand for a second term.

"I believe the assembly will not last long unless it recognises the sense of emergency across this nation," the president said, in a passionate two-and-a-half-hour speech, full of historical and Biblical allusions.

In a symbolic gesture to the assembly, he offered his resignation, confident that it would be rejected by his supporters who have an overwhelming majority in the assembly.

"If you think my presidency might be a problem, do with me what you will," he said.

New constitution

He also called on the assembly to assert its authority and not let other national institutions stand in the way of the process of rewriting the country's constitution.

President Chavez has said he believes the assembly should have the power to dissolve Congress, the Supreme Court and even the presidency, an assertion with which the Supreme Court has strongly disagreed.

Congress and the high court are controlled by political parties opposed to the president, while supporters Mr Chavez hold 90% of the seats in the new assembly.

It held its first session on Tuesday, and has six months to draft a new constitution, although the president has challenged it to come up with a document within three months.

Constitutional change is the centrepiece of President Chavez's plan to erase what he says is the political stranglehold of the old parties and usher in a "peaceful revolution".

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