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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 August 2007, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
Venezuela head outlines changes
Giant Chavez balloon outside National Assembly
Chavez says he is supported by the "immense majority"
President Hugo Chavez has presented his plans for changes to Venezuela's constitution, including an end to the presidential term limits.

Current rules mean Mr Chavez is unable to seek re-election and will have to step down when his term ends in 2012.

His plans, to be put to a national referendum, also increase presidential control over municipalities and states.

Mr Chavez has rejected criticism of the proposals, saying they will bring "new horizons for the new era".

Some of the main changes include:

  • Removing term limits for the presidency, and extending the term of office from six years to seven

  • Bringing in a maximum six-hour working day

  • Increasing presidential control over the central bank
  • Strengthening state economic powers, allowing the government to control assets of private companies before a court grants an expropriation order.

The president set out his plans in a speech to the National Assembly, a body where all seats are held by pro-Chavez parties as a result of an opposition election boycott in 2005.

The assembly is expected to approve the proposals within several months and they would then be put to a national referendum.

President Chavez told the assembly his proposals would only affect 33 articles, about 10% of the constitution.

'Great battle'

Thousands of government supporters converged on the National Assembly, carrying banners reading "Yes to the reform, on the path to 21st Century Socialism".

CHANGES UNDER CHAVEZ
Hugo Chavez in the National Assembly, 15 August 2007
Telecommunications, electricity firms nationalised
Took control of oil sector
Land being redistributed under agrarian reform
Warned health care providers of nationalisation if costs not reduced
Banks told to work "in national interest"

Inside, Mr Chavez began by paying tribute to Simon Bolivar - the man who fought for Venezuela's independence 200 years ago.

He said Bolivar was the inspiration for his political dream.

Mr Chavez has promised structural changes to get rid of corruption - something he described as a cancer, says the BBC's James Ingham in Caracas.

He said now was the era of "people power" and not the power of the oligarchy - a word he uses to describe past governments.

In a television interview prior to his address, the president said he believed the "immense majority" of the people would back his plan, but he predicted a "great battle" with the opposition.

"The Venezuelan opposition, without exception, is ... aligned with the interests of the empire," he said, referring to the United States.

Critics

Since being re-elected last year, the Venezuelan leader has stepped up a programme of nationalisation of sectors including energy and telecommunications.

Pro-Chavez rally outside National Assembly, 15 August 2007
Chavez supporters gathered outside the National Assembly
He pushed through a new constitution in 1999, shortly after he was first elected. Under it presidents are limited to serving two successive six year terms.

He says the charter must be redrafted in order to steer Venezuela away from capitalism and build a socialist state.

His critics say Mr Chavez is attempting to remain as president for decades, following the example of his close friend Fidel Castro in Cuba.

"Chavez is seeking to reduce the territory held by the opposition and give his intention to remain in power a legal foundation," said Gerardo Blyde, an opposition leader.

Mr Chavez's proposed reforms were likely to be "red capes" like those used by a bullfighter "to distract Venezuelans from his real objective", the Associated Press quoted Mr Blyde as saying.

In his speech to the National Assembly, the president said: "I doubt there is any country on this planet with a democracy more alive than the one we enjoy in Venezuela today."

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Mr Chavez announces the controversial plans



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