Page last updated at 05:58 GMT, Saturday, 14 February 2009

Venezuela expels Spanish deputy

Hugo Chavez surrounded by supporters at a rally in Caracas, 13 February 2009
The referendum could allow Hugo Chavez to run again in 2012

Venezuela has expelled a Spanish deputy of the European parliament, over reports that he called President Hugo Chavez a dictator.

Luis Herrero had also criticised a decision to keep polling stations open two hours longer than normal in a referendum to be held on Sunday.

The referendum is on a proposal to remove all term limits on elected officials, including Mr Chavez.

Mr Herrero had been invited to observe the vote by an opposition party.

The Spanish deputy, who represents the conservative Popular Party, was put on a commercial flight to Brazil late on Friday, Venezuelan officials said.

Earlier, in comments to journalists, he had invited Venezuelans to vote freely.

"They should never be carried away when they vote by the fear that a dictator tries to impose in a premeditated way," AFP news agency quoted him as saying.

The president of Venezuela's National Elections Council, Tibisay Lucena, said Mr Herrero should leave the country for making "offensive statements" over a decision to keep polling stations open for two extra hours.

He also said Mr Herrero had disturbed the "peace and harmony" that had so far marked the referendum campaign.

Mr Chavez celebrated 10 years in power earlier this month.

He said the past decade could be summed up as "revolution, independence and socialism".

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