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Opposition damns Chavez vote bid

Hugo Chavez
The opposition say they will beat Hugo Chavez's plans

Opposition parties in Venezuela have formally rejected a plan by President Hugo Chavez to seek to stay in office as long as he keeps winning elections.

In a joint statement, the opposition said: "Fourteen years are sufficient."

Mr Chavez, marking 10 years since his first election as president, is seeking reforms that would let him stand again when his latest term ends in 2012.

Last year, he lost a referendum on the issue and opposition parties say it cannot be voted on again.

Thousands of supporters of the president gathered outside the presidential palace in Caracas on Saturday to mark the 10th anniversary of his first election victory in December 1998.

But opposition parties issued a joint statement saying the president's re-election proposals were "anti-democratic, unconstitutional and against the national interest".

Opposition politician Omar Barboza said it would strengthen the actions of a government which persecutes and harasses those who do not think as it does.

He said the statement marked the launch of their No campaign ahead of a referendum President Chavez hopes could be held in February.

Signatures needed

Re-election in the 2012 elections would keep him in power until 2019, but the president has said he hopes to remain in power until 2021.

Mr Chavez can propose holding a referendum to the electoral authority only if he collects 2.5 million signatures supporting it, or if the request is supported by 30% of Congress, which is currently dominated by his allies.

He told supporters outside the palace that he had decided to set the constitutional amendment plans into motion - but said it should be done with full support of people, in streets gathering signatures.

The electoral authority is required to call a referendum 30 days after receiving a successful proposal. But it has already said it would be ready to hold a referendum in February.

Although the president's personal support is still over 50%, the opposition has been buoyed by its recent performances at the ballot box, says the BBC's Will Grant in Caracas.

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