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Chavez announces re-election plan

By Will Grant
BBC News, Caracas

Mr Chavez makes the V sign at a rally in Caracas
Mr Chavez wants to hold a second referendum on the issue

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has announced a plan to seek a constitutional amendment to allow him to stand for re-election.

Mr Chavez said he hoped to remain in power until 2021.

His announcement comes after the president lost a constitutional referendum last year.

And it follows a regional election in which his United Socialist party ceded key ground to the opposition, including the capital city of Caracas.

'2019 or 2021'

President Chavez told thousands of supporters that he would be seeking the constitutional changes necessary to allow the president to stand for indefinite re-election.

The president narrowly lost a referendum on exactly that issue last December and under the present rules, he must stand down in 2012.

But now the debate must start around the country, he said.

"I am ready, and if I am healthy, God willing, I will be with you until 2019, until 2021," he said.

The opposition say that the same issue cannot be voted on twice. But President Chavez may well be able to get around that.

When he lost the referendum last year, people were voting on a whole series of constitutional reforms - one of which was the question of indefinite re-election.

This would be a proposal for a single amendment to the constitution, and as such could send Venezuelans back to the polls some time next year.

It is far from clear whether President Chavez would win another vote on the matter. Although the president's personal support is still over 50%, the opposition has been buoyed by its recent performances at the ballot box.

Any vote on this question is likely to be as close as the last, in which a few thousand votes separated the two sides.

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