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Chavez Rallies Support for Venezuela Reform


Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has led a mass rally in support of a series of proposed constitutional reforms. In Caracas, VOA's Brian Wagner reports Venezuelans will vote Sunday on the plan, which includes ending term limits on the presidency.

Government supporters in red shirts flooded Bolivar Avenue, where organizers erected stages and sound systems for bands playing music that urged people to vote "yes" on Sunday.

In an address to the marchers, President Chavez said a vote for the reform bill was a vote in favor of him, and a vote against it was a vote against him. He added, if the reform plan wins on Sunday, it will deliver another blow against what he called U.S. imperialism.

Mr. Chavez also warned the U.S. government against meddling in the vote, saying he would cut oil sales, if it did.

He said he will order the nation's oil minister to halt all shipments and there will be no more oil for the United States.

The United States buys about 12 per cent of its oil imports from Venezuela.

The U.S. Embassy in Caracas issued a statement saying it rejected any claims of interference in the election.

On Thursday tens of thousands of opposition members held a rally on the same plaza in central Caracas to urge voters to reject the 69-point reform plan. Opponents say the plan will give Mr. Chavez too much power, and threatening private property rights and personal freedoms.

Supporters say the plan will give more government control to the people and expand the highly popular social programs launched by Mr. Chavez.

Government employee Francys Ochoa traveled several hours from her homes outside Caracas to take part in Friday's rally. She says she backs the reforms even though she is unfamiliar with the details of the complicated package.

Ochoa says many people do not support the reform simply because Mr. Chavez has asked them to do so. But she says they trust the president because he has implemented many positive changes so far.

Also at the march was student Nervis Chourio who said he supports the reform because it will have a positive impact at the nation's universities.

Chourio says one measure that is important to him will give more power to the universities and strengthen the participation of the students.

About 100 election observers from Latin America and elsewhere are in the country to monitor the vote. However, the Organization of American States and European Union, which have taken part in past votes, are not attending because of they do not have enough time to form a mission.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman expressed concern about the absence of those vote monitors, saying those outside of Venezuela will have little insight into the procedures implemented on election day.

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