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Friday, August 13, 1999 Published at 07:22 GMT 08:22 UK

World: Americas

Sweeping powers for Venezuelan assembly

President Chavez greets a supporter in Caracas

By BBC Correspondent Peter Greste

Venezuela's constitutional assembly has declared a national state of emergency and given itself the power to dissolve government bodies.

The declaration effectively makes the assembly the supreme ruling authority in Venezuela, with power over every branch of public life.

The declaration is broadly in line with a proposal from President Hugo Chavez, who wanted the assembly to have the power to reorganise the country from the ground up.

[ image: President Chavez taking the presidential oath last Wednesday]
President Chavez taking the presidential oath last Wednesday
It means that as each day passes in Venezuela, President Chavez is moving closer to his ultimate goal of transforming the country.

Tackling poverty

Since coming to power earlier this year, he has pushed hard to realise his dream of scrapping the old political systems that he blames for turning the most important oil producer outside the Middle East into a country mired in poverty and corruption.

Now, following the declaration by the newly installed constitutional assembly, he has moved a significant step closer to that dream.

The assembly is notionally charged with drawing up the country's constitution, but by declaring a national state of emergency, the assembly gave itself the authority to reorganise public powers, even as it considers the new blueprint.

In its own words, the assembly now has the ability to intervene, modify or temporarily dissolve public powers to recover the rule of law, stability and order.

'Truly democratic'

That has Hugo Chavez's critics deeply worried. The president's political allies control 92% of the seats in the assembly, and so far they seem unwilling to challenge the supremely popular leader by going against his wishes.

One political analyst said President Chavez's Venezuela has all the ingredients for a "pseudo-democracy".

"I'm sure they only want the best for the country, but I can't see how the assembly can rewrite a decent constitution and completely reorganise public life and get the economy under control all in six months.

"At some point, an autocrat is going to have to take over and tell them what to do," he said.

But for his part, Mr Chavez insists he has no interest in controlling the assembly, arguing that it is a truly democratic institution that rules at the behest of its constituents, the first such organisation that Venezuela has had for more than 40 years.

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