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Venezuelan election law approved

Deputies in Venezuela's National Assembly voting, 31 July 2009
Venezuela's National Assembly is packed with Hugo Chavez's supporters

Venezuela's National Assembly has passed an election law that critics say will favour the party of President Hugo Chavez in polls next year.

The law passed easily in the National Congress, which is dominated by supporters of Mr Chavez.

It allows the National Election Council to redraw voting district boundaries.

Meanwhile, Venezuela's media regulator ordered the closure of 34 radio stations amid a growing feud between the government and the private media.

The moves come amid accusations by the opposition that Mr Chavez is becoming increasingly autocratic, the BBC's Will Grant reports from Venezuela.

'Nothing to fear'

Supporters of the election law president say it is needed to better reflect the changing shape of grassroots politics in the country, which they say has become more localised and representative under Mr Chavez.

Indigenous communities would be better represented under the new system, they say.

The president's opponents say the law is an effort to prevent them from getting a foothold in the National Assembly, and that it would help Mr Chavez's United Socialist Party (PSUV) in congressional elections due next year.

Tomas Sanchez, one of a dozen deputies to vote against the bill, said he expected it to "change the district lines, mixing up places where the opposition is stronger with places where the PSUV usually wins, and thereby weaken the opposition".

But ruling party representative Iroshima Bravo said the opposition had "nothing to fear".

Announcing the closure of the radio stations, Diosdado Cabello, the head of the national regulatory agency, said they would have to stop transmissions once they were notified of the ruling.

It comes after public prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz proposed a tough new media law under which journalists could be imprisoned for publishing "harmful" material.

Some 240 radio stations in Venezuela are at risk of being closed for allegedly failing to hand their registration papers into the government ahead of a deadline last month.



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