Source AP ©

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez plans to reform constitution

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is calling for an end to presidential term limits as part of his plans to reform his country's constitution. 

Chavez, speaking to the National Assembly on Wednesday, said presidential terms should be extended from six to seven years without limits on re-election, though he denied he wants lifelong power as his opponents allege.

"I propose to the sovereign people the seven-year presidential term, the president can be re-elected immediately for a new term," Chavez said. "If someone says this is a project to entrench oneself in power. No, it's only a possibility, a possibility that depends on many variables."

The self-styled revolutionary also called for ending the autonomy of Venezuela 's Central Bank, which would give him access to billions of dollars of foreign reserves. He also proposed increasing the government's power to expropriate private property before getting a court's approval.

If approved, the reform of the constitution would be Chavez's most radical step yet in his drive to transform Venezuela along his vision of socialism. Since winning re-election to a new six-year term in December, he has aggressively advanced that goal, nationalizing the oil, telecommunications and electricity sectors.

Critics accuse Chavez of seeking to remain as president for decades to come, like his close friend Fidel Castro in Cuba . Many fear he is steering this oil-rich South American nation toward Cuba-style communism.

"Chavez is seeking to reduce the territory held by the opposition and give his intention to remain in power a legal foundation," said Gerardo Blyde, an opposition leader and former lawmaker.

He said many other reforms are likely to be "red capes" like those used by a bullfighter "to distract Venezuelans from his real objective."

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