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Venezuela assembly OK's amendments

Chávez term limits to end if passed

CARACAS - Venezuela's progovernment National Assembly overwhelmingly approved constitutional revisions yesterday that would greatly expand the power of President Hugo Chávez and permit him to run for reelection indefinitely.

The 69 changes to Venezuela's Constitution now go to citizens for a Dec. 2 vote.

The proposed changes, Chávez's most radical move in his push to transform Venezuela into a socialist state, threaten to spur a new wave of political upheaval in this oil-rich country deeply divided over Chávez's rule.

The amendments would end presidential term limits, allowing Chávez to run again in 2012, and extend the presidential term of office from six to seven years.

Other changes would allow the government to expropriate private property before a court ruling and take control of the Central Bank; create types of property managed by cooperatives; and reduce the workday to six hours.

All but seven of the assembly's 167 lawmakers voted for the changes by a show of hands.

"Today the Venezuelan people have a pencil in their hands to write their own history, and it's not going to be the history of the elite," said pro-Chávez lawmaker Earle Herrera.

Concerns that the measures will weaken civil liberties have been raised by university students, opposition parties, human rights groups, and representatives of Venezuela's Roman Catholic Church.

Demonstrators protested the changes at several universities yesterday. One student was killed by an unidentified gunman during a demonstration in western Zulia state, Zulia Police Chief Candido Carreno told state television. Four other students were injured, he said without elaborating. No suspects were arrested.

Critics also worry the overhaul would allow Chávez, 53, to remain in power for decades like his close friend, Fidel Castro of Cuba.

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