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Venezuelans Vote in Constitutional Referendum

Venezuelans are casting ballots on a controversial reform plan that would allow President Hugo Chavez to seek re-election indefinitely and extend his socialist policies. Pro-Chavez government officials say that exit polls indicate voters approved constitutional changes; opposition groups say their own exit polling indicates referendum wound up in a statistical tie. In Caracas, VOA's Brian Wagner reports many voters turned out early to cast their votes on the proposed constitutional changes.

Lines of voters extended dozens of meters at some polling stations in the Venezuelan capital, where people began gathering before dawn.

Italian language instructor Andres Canu was one of the first to vote at a school in downtown Caracas. He said the four-hour wait to cast a ballot was normal for his polling .

Voters are deciding on whether to approve a set of 69 constitutional changes proposed by President Chavez and lawmakers in the National Assembly earlier this year. Election officials have split the proposals into two blocks, asking people to vote yes or no on each set of reforms.

One set includes proposals that would end term limits on the presidency, create new forms of community-owned property, and lower the voting age to 16. The other includes new rules to fight ethnic, gender and political discrimination, enhance the government's power in states of emergency, and ease the requirements for impeaching Supreme Court justices.

Business operator Miriam Bedoya says she wishes election officials had broken down the voting blocks even further.

Bedoya says it would have been better to vote on each proposal, to choose the ones you agree with and reject those you do not. But she says with two blocks it is hard to decide.

Polling stations are set to close at six o'clock in Venezuela, and election officials expect to begin announcing results later in the evening.