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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 October 2007, 08:46 GMT 09:46 UK
Chavez reforms go to parliament
President Hugo Chavez
President Chavez has almost doubled his number of changes
Venezuela's parliament, dominated by supporters of President Hugo Chavez, has begun its final debate on proposed changes to the constitution.

The changes would remove term limits for the presidency, and extend the term of office from six years to seven.

The assembly on Tuesday added 25 amendments to a previous 33 passed by Congress, including proposals to detain citizens without charge in emergencies.

If passed, all the measures will be put to a popular referendum in December.

There are no opposition politicians in the Venezuelan National Assembly, since most of the anti-Chavez parties boycotted the last election in 2005.

However, several members of parliament have questioned the way these late changes have been introduced, calling it constitutional fraud.

'Strong protections'

Mr Chavez said the changes were "imperative to the revolution" and would help make the country more socialist.

One of the most controversial amendments would allow the president sweeping powers during a state of emergency.

The international organisation Human Rights Watch has condemned this, saying under international law all countries have to guarantee certain freedoms at all times.

"Recent Latin American history shows that it is precisely during states of emergency that countries need strong judicial protections to prevent abuse," said HRW Americas director, Jose Miguel Vivanco.

Among the other changes to the constitution proposed by Mr Chavez are:

  • Bringing in a maximum six-hour working day

  • Cutting the voting age from 18 to 16

  • 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.

Also on Tuesday, a long-standing critic of the president, Roman Catholic Cardinal Rosalio Castillo Lara, died, aged 85.

He had consistently spoken out against Mr Chavez, saying the president was increasingly authoritarian and "fundamental democratic principles [were] ignored or violated".

For his part, the president called Cardinal Castillo Lara "a hypocrite, bandit and devil with a cassock".

Rosalio Castillo Lara was ordained in 1949, and was appointed cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 1986.

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