Page last updated at 06:39 GMT, Friday, 13 March 2009

Chavez takes over transport links

By Will Grant
BBC News, Caracas

Hugo Chavez  - 8/3/2009
President Hugo Chavez has said he intends to run for re-election in 2012

Venezuela's National Assembly has voted to switch control of the country's highways, ports and airports from the state to the federal level.

The move gives control of key transport links to President Hugo Chavez.

Critics say it is unconstitutional and will further consolidate Mr Chavez's hold on power by weakening governors and mayors in opposition-run states.

Mr Chavez recently won a referendum removing limits on how many times he and others can run for re-election.

This change to the law on decentralisation puts the control of key transport and maritime links out of the hands of the states and under the control of the executive for what the government calls "strategic reasons".

During a lengthy debate in the assembly, which is largely made up of the president's supporters, the head of the United Socialist party, Mario Isea, said they were approving the changes to "defend the right of access" and "guarantee essential public services" to all Venezuelans.

Since the government lost a number of key seats, including the mayoralty of Caracas, in local elections last year, there have been regular clashes over jurisdiction between local mayors and the national government.

This change to the law comes just weeks after Venezuelans voted for a constitutional amendment granting Mr Chavez and other elected officials the right to stand for election beyond the previous limit of two terms.

The socialist leader has indicated on several occasions that he intends to run again for office in 2012 and has talked of remaining in power until 2021.

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