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Monday, July 19, 1999 Published at 08:54 GMT 09:54 UK

World: Americas

Venezuelan president defies talk show ban

President Chavez keeps an eye on the campaign

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has continued to defy attempts by the country's electoral authorities to ban him from his weekly television and radio programmes.

He sent three of his top advisers to replace him as host of his Sunday morning radio show, then phoned in and discussed his policies on air.

"They can bind me with a thousand chains, and Hugo Chavez will keep talking," the president said during his 10-minute call.

The National Electoral Council accuses him of illegally using the programmes to promote candidates for the 25 July election for a constituent assembly. Last week it fined him $7,600.

[ image: President Chavez in the studio before he was fined: now he phones in instead]
President Chavez in the studio before he was fined: now he phones in instead
A spokesman for the electoral council said that the president's new tactic of making phone calls to the radio programme was legal, as long as he promoted the electoral process and not a particular candidate

However, he said the council would have been prepared to send in the military to shut down the broadcast had Chavez hosted Sunday's show and supported his candidates.

Other callers to Sunday's programme included the president's wife, Marisabel Chavez, who is also a candidate for the assembly.

New constitution

President Chavez has been promoting candidates from his leftist Patriotic Pole coalition, to keep the assembly from falling into opposition hands.

Since taking power in February, he has vowed to purge corruption. He says a new constitution, which will be Venezuela's 26th, is necessary to achieve this and to end the country's economic problems. The assembly's job will be to rewrite the constitution

The president's popularity rating stands at around 70%, but it is less certain whether his party will have overall control of the 131-seat assembly after the elections.

The establishing of a constituent assembly was backed by 92% of the country in a national referendum in April. Another national vote will be held on the text of the new constitution early next year.

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