Venezuela's National Assembly has given its initial approval to a measure that would grant President Hugo Chavez the power to rule by decree for 18 months.

Legislators voted unanimously for the bill Thursday in Caracas. A second session of the legislature, which is controlled by allies of Mr. Chavez, is expected to give the bill final approval next week.

The president was re-elected in December with 63 percent of the vote. He began serving his new, six-year term last week with a promise to continue socialist reforms in Venezuela.

Venezuela's opposition accuses Mr. Chavez of moving the country toward a totalitarian form of government that resembles Cuba. The president is a long-time admirer of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

During his inauguration address, Mr. Chavez said he will seek to amend the constitution to allow unlimited consecutive presidential terms. This would allow him to run for re-election when his current term expires in 2013.

The president is also expected to nationalize Venezuela's oil, telecommunications and electrical industries.

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