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Venezuelan Parliament Gives Chavez Decree Powers

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Caracas. (file photo)

Venezuelan lawmakers have granted President Hugo Chavez broad powers to rule by decree for 18 months.

Legislators in the outgoing National Assembly, which is dominated by Chavez allies, approved the president's request Friday. The move gives the president the ability to use such powers for the fourth time since he took office 11 years ago.

President Chavez has said he needs the powers to respond to natural disasters caused by severe weather that left thousands homeless and living in government shelters.

Critics describe the move as a clear effort to sideline the next Congress, which will have enough opposition members to block such action. Back in September, the opposition gained ground in parliamentary elections, drawing about half the vote. The opposition won more than one-third of the seats in the new Congress, enough to deny the Venezuelan president the two-thirds majority needed to approve some laws, including decree powers.

Earlier this week, the United States said the Venezuelan president is subverting the will of his people by seeking special powers to enact laws by decree. Chavez's opponents in Venezuela have accused him of turning the country into a dictatorship.

The law that grants the president decree powers also will allow him to enact measures involving land, finances, security and other areas.

Also Friday, lawmakers approved a new banking law that clears the way for increased state intervention in the sector.

The leftist leader has nationalized much of Venezuela's economy since he took power in 1999, saying he wants to improve the life of the country's poor majority. Critics say his policies are scaring off investors.