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Venezuela May Change Constitution to Boost Chavez's Powers

Venezuela's National Assembly has approved extensive constitutional changes expanding President Hugo Chavez's power and supporting his plan to turn the oil-rich country into a socialist state.

The Assembly overwhelmingly approved 69 constitutional changes and amendments Friday, with all but seven of the chamber's 167 members voting for the changes.

If the amendments are ratified by the public next month in a referendum, they will extend Mr. Chavez's term of office from six to seven years and lift a two-term limit on the presidency.

The proposals also strip the central bank of its autonomy, allow the state to expropriate private property and give authorities sweeping powers if a national emergency is declared, including detention without charges and controls on news media.

Opposition parties, human-rights groups and Roman Catholic Church leaders in Venezuela oppose the constitutional changes because of the concentration of power in the president's hands.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.