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Chavez Says He'll Honor Referendum Decision on his Presidency - 2003-01-16

At the United Nations Thursday, Venezuela's embattled president, Hugo Chavez, said he would step down if he is defeated in a referendum. But, Mr. Chavez says he is against holding the referendum on February 2, as the opposition is demanding.

Mr. Chavez says the February 2 date does not leave the time necessary to work out the technical aspects of a national referendum on his controversial presidency, including constitutional changes.

During a news conference, following a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Mr. Chavez said that, according to the Venezuelan constitution, new elections cannot be held before mid-August, halfway through his term. But he said if he lost the election, he would willingly step down. The Venezuelan leader said he is not aware of a compromise proposal by Cesar Gavira, the head of the Organization of American States, to hold new elections in May or June.

Mr. Chavez blamed subversives for the growing opposition to his government and the oil strike that is crippling the nation. "What we are confronting is a subversive movement, which has unhesitatingly used tools of terrorism to try to impose its views against the national constitution," he said.

Mr. Chavez, who survived a coup attempt last April, cited the nation's four major private television stations and what he called right-wing business coalition as part of the subversive plan. He said he is willing to work with what he called democratic opposition in order to make the referendum on his term constitutional.