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Thursday, 30 December, 1999, 01:53 GMT
Venezuela's Chavez faces 'dictator' charge

In some of the sharpest criticism levelled against the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, three leading opposition figures have accused him of leading the country towards a dictatorship.

In a joint statement, the three leaders Alberto Franceschi, Claudio Fermin and Allan Brewer said Mr Chavez and his supporters had used legal subterfuge to pillage power and undermine democracy.

In particular, they criticised a number of recent appointments made by the country's constitutional assembly, which enjoys sweeping powers.

In the last few days, the assembly has named supporters of Mr Chavez to head the supreme court, the public prosecutor's office and the electoral council. The assembly says the appointments are necessary to help the country through a transition period until general elections are held.

Elections were due to be held in March, but could be postponed until June following devastating floods earlier this month.

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