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Venezuela's Chavez takes stock

By Will Grant
BBC News, Caracas

President Chavez delivers the state of the union address on 13 January
Mr Chavez challenged opponents to give him evidence of a crisis

Venezuela's socialist economy is not in danger from the low oil price and global economic crisis, Venezuela President Hugo Chavez has said.

He was speaking during his annual address to the national assembly.

Traditionally the address is used to highlight the government's achievements of the previous year.

But Mr Chavez also used his speech to make the case for changing the constitution to remove limits on how many times a president can serve.

Correspondents say that a vote on the issue, which is expected in mid-February, is set to be very close.

During Tuesday's address, which lasted several hours, President Chavez said it would be dangerous to remove a captain from his ship half-way through the voyage.

He produced a long series of government statistics to support his argument saying that there had been a 7% rise in the index of human development in Venezuela since he came to power 10 years ago.

Oil price

Mr Chavez said more than two million people had been taken out of extreme poverty and that the country's economy was well protected from the global economic crisis.

"The opposition are determined to suggest there is an economic crisis here in Venezuela. But we'll have to ask them 'where is it? Show it to me then! Where is the crisis here?'" he said.

"It was them who almost brought the country to its knees but the Venezuelan people saved it from economic danger and never again will the country go under."

The opposition would dispute that claim, and dispute the figures he produced too. They point to different statistics over the past 10 years, such as the rising level of inflation and high crime rate.

The opposition also say that any social development seen in Venezuela under Mr Chavez is the result of a high oil price and is unsustainable.

But President Chavez is confident that the achievements outlined before the national assembly will be enough to persuade voters to grant him the right to indefinite re-election that he seeks.

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