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Chavez to rule by decree, says legislature

Venezuela's National Assembly granted Chavez unprecedented power to rule by decree, increasing his authority to move forward on his leftist agenda.

india Updated: Feb 01, 2007 11:23 IST

Venezuela's National Assembly granted President Hugo Chavez unprecedented power to rule by decree, increasing his authority to move forward on his leftist agenda - from the oil industry to telecommunications to banking.

Chavez was given the special powers for 18 months on Wednesday by a legislature fully controlled by his party and a handful of allies on.

The legislators took their celebratory vote under the open air and tropical blue skies of Caracas's main square, Plaza Bolivar, where ordinary Venezuelans also gathered.

National Assembly speaker Cilia Flores asked for a show of hands from dozens of government supporters congregated below the statue of Venezuelan and Latin American independence hero Simon Bolivar.

"Approved unanimously, with the vote of the people," she said.

Chavez did not attend the ceremony, and was represented by Vice President Jorge Rodriguez, who joked about criticism from home and abroad that the move has turned Chavez into a dictator.

"See how dictatorial, to make power in the hands of the state go directly to the people, and to legislate so that it goes directly to the people," Rodriguez said, referring to the show of hands in the plaza.

"A dictatorship is what we had before, the dictatorship of a few. We want to insure the dictatorship of true democracy," he added.

With his new powers, Chavez will be capable of enacting sweeping changes to government institutions, local elections, finance and taxes, banking, national defence, and the energy field as he attempts to establish a socialist system.

The country's opposition boycotted the last legislative election in 2005. Opposition parties have criticised the latest move as a step toward totalitarianism in the fifth-largest oil exporter in the world.

Protestors were scant in sight on Wednesday. But last weekend, they demonstrated against another of Chavez's moves to lift the television license held by the critical broadcaster RCTV, holding up signs depicting Chavez holding a rifle.

The controversial left-wing populist Chavez - who also was given special powers in 2001 - earlier this month announced plans to nationalise the country's largest electricity and telecommunications firms and end the autonomy of the Central Bank. Last week, he expropriated the Charallave private airport outside of Caracas.

He also wants to remove presidential term limits from the constitution, raising the spectre of a leader with the ambition to hold on to the reins of power as did his political idol, Cuba's Fidel Castro, who has reigned for 47 years.

Chavez's tenure has raised concerns in the US that he has marginalised democracy. Relations between the two countries have grown increasingly sour in recent years.

The US intelligence czar, John Negroponte, Tuesday warned that Chavez was a threat to democratic governance in the region.

US President George Bush on Wednesday said Chavez's nationalisation plans "will make it harder for the Venezuelan people to be lifted out of poverty (and) will make it harder for the people to realise their full potential."

"I'm concerned about the Venezuelan people," Bush said in an interview with Fox News Channel. "And I'm worried about the diminution of democratic institutions."

First Published: Feb 01, 2007 11:23 IST