Friday, July 16, 1999 Published at 06:42 GMT 07:42 UK
Venezuelan president attacks election body
Mr Chavez usually takes questions from the audience on his chat shows
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has launched a stinging attack on the country's electoral authorities, accusing them of trying to muzzle him ahead of next week's constituent assembly elections.
The assembly will have six months to write a new constitution for Venezuela, seen as the centrepiece of the president's strategy for transforming the country.
The electoral council says Mr Chavez' actions violate a law which forbids the president from directly participating in the election - a law the council says he himself proposed, and the people approved, in a referendum earlier this year.
Soon after the ruling, Mr Chavez went on air to declare that the ruling was an attempt to suspend the election, and said that the Electoral Council would have to throw him into prison in order to silence him.
Mr Chavez deviated from the programme's usual format of taking questions from the audience, choosing instead to deliver a 40-minute speech in which declared himself a president in chains.
He said the electoral council was part of a conspiracy to suspend the 25 July vote.
The Venezuelan president told viewers: "I feel like a prisoner here. But I am sure that on 25 July all of you will break the chains. We have all been chained for years, chained by corrupt powers."
Mr Chavez said he would pay the electoral council's fine because he did not want to give it an excuse to suspend the elections.
At the same time, he issued a warning to the opposition: "Do not underestimate your adversary."
Rewriting the rules
It is not clear how the council will react to the broadcast. The BBC correspondent in the region, Peter Greste, says that because the show did not take its usual format, the president could argue that his regular show never went to air.
But it is also probable that Mr Chavez will try to ride the conflict out.
If, as expected, his political allies dominate the constitutent assembly, the president's critics fear they will be able to rewrite the rules in whatever form suits the president.
Mr Chavez, a 44-year-old retired army officer, came to power in February with a pledge to purge corruption and rule in favour of the country's impoverished masses.