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Venezuela's Chavez to Press Ahead With Changes, Despite Protests


Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has accused anti-government demonstrators of using violence to oppose his efforts to change the constitution. VOA's Brian Wagner reports that opponents say the president is using the reforms to further his hold on power.

President Chavez led pro-government marches through Caracas on Sunday to rally support for the planned constitutional changes that include ending term limits on the presidency. Chavez told supporters that the changes will give more power to the people, and help expand what he calls his 21st century socialist revolution.

The rallies are seen as a response to several days of protests by university students and government critics, who accuse the president of seeking a stronger hold on power. At least one person was killed in clashes between protesters and police in western Zulia state.

In the rally Sunday, Chavez accused protest organizers of trying to provoke violence and political upheaval, and he said officials may ban student marches planned in coming days and weeks. He also issued a message to the nation's upper class and to the leaders of an alleged plot against him.

Chavez said he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Argentine-born Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, whom he quoted as saying "in a true revolution, you either win or you die."

Venezuela's National Assembly agreed to the president's nearly 70-point reform plan last week, which now will be sent for a referendum in December. If approved, the measures would shorten the official work day to six hours, allow the government to seize private property without court approval and grant new powers to authorities during a state of emergency.

Some critics say the reform plan is too complex to be put to a single vote. Political science professor Anibal Romero of Metropolitan University in Caracas, says recent polls show that a fraction of Venezuelan voters understand the changes. And, he says, the government is using populist initiatives, such as the six-hour work day, to generate support for the entire reform package.

Romero says it may be true that most people want to work only six hours a day, and that is what the government is promoting. But he says the real goal of the reform is to allow President Chavez to serve indefinitely.

The president's former defense minister, Raul Baduel, spoke out against the reform bid Monday, saying it amounted to a coup d'etat that would violate the constitution. Human rights groups and the Catholic Church in Venezuela also reject the reform plan.

Since taking office in 1999, Mr. Chavez has won a series of ballot initiatives, mainly thanks to strong support among the nation's poor communities.

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