Venezuela lawmakers have given preliminary approval for a referendum to scrap presidential term limits.  

The National Assembly debated the constitutional amendment Thursday.  It would allow President Hugo Chavez to run for re-election in 2012 and beyond.  

Election officials said the referendum on the amendment could be held in March if the lawmakers give their approval on the second reading of the draft amendment in January.

Government officials said Chavez supporters collected nearly five million signatures to symbolically support the amendment sought by the socialist leader.  

Last year, Venezuelans narrowly rejected a broad package of constitutional amendments that lifted term limits for the presidency.  

Mr. Chavez has asked voters to change Venezuela's constitution to move the country toward what he called 21st century socialism. 


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