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Page last updated at 20:20 GMT, Friday, 16 January 2009

Venezuela to vote on Chavez term

President Hugo Chavez. File photo
President Chavez says he is sure he can muster enough support this time

Venezuela is to hold a referendum next month on whether to remove limits on re-electing presidents, officials said.

The vote is set for 15 February, and if passed, would allow President Hugo Chavez to run for office again.

The announcement comes a day after MPs backed a constitutional amendment brought by Mr Chavez's supporters.

A plan to lift term limits was defeated by the Venezuelan people in 2007. The BBC's correspondent in Caracas says the issue has sharply divided the nation.

Student protests

Announcing the date of the referendum, the head of Venezuela's electoral council, Tibisay Lucena, said the poll would be "clean, transparent and reliable".

Mr Chavez - who was first elected president in 1998 - has argued he needs another 10 years in office to consolidate what he calls his socialist revolution.

The opposition says the entire process is unconstitutional and amounts to a power grab by Mr Chavez.

In the past few days, students from a number of universities have mobilised a number of protests against the referendum, which by and large have passed off peacefully, the BBC's Will Grant in Caracas says.

Neither side wants a repeat of the violence which marred the last referendum campaign, in which a number of protesters were killed, our correspondent says.

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