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Friday, June 18, 1999 Published at 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK

World: Americas

Venezuela's president turns chat show host

President Chavez meets the people the old-fashioned way

Buoyed by his recent success as the host of a national radio programme Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has taken to the air in a new weekly talk show on state-run television.

Called "Up Front with the President", the programme saw Mr Chavez exchanging views with members of the studio audience. He was reprimanded by one of them for drinking too much coffee and smoking too many cigarettes.

[ image: Presidential powers of persuasion]
Presidential powers of persuasion
The President talked about his plans for the country and said: "I don't have time to go on every street corner. So this is my way of getting closer to the people."

Mr Chavez also raised some eyebrows when he spoke about the forthcoming municipal elections, in which his wife is a candidate. The president said: "You know who to vote for."

Abuse of power?

Mr Chavez's media appearances have caused concern among opposition politicians, who say he is abusing his position in his attempt to carry out economic and constitutional reforms.

The 44-year-old former paratroop colonel won a landslide election victory last year and has since forced Congress to give him the authority to rule by decree.

His populist style and perhaps the influence of one of his closest advisors, who was himself a leading TV journalist, have seen Mr Chavez use the media to maintain his position in the opinion polls.

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