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Venezuela votes on Chavez's proposals for more power

Venezuelan voters cast their ballots Sunday on a referendum over constitutional changes that woud significantly enhance the power of President Hugo Chávez.
Meanwhile, tension has heightened between Chávez’s supporters and antigovernment groups.
The constitutional changes would end presidential term limits, lengthen Chávez’s term to seven years from six and raise the threshold for recalling him.
Such changes would speed the president’s efforts to formally establish a socialist state in Venezuela, coming after moves by Chavez this year to nationalize large companies and create a single Socialist party for his followers.
Among the other proposals: giving control over the central bank to the president, the creation of new provinces governed by centrally-appointed officials, a change in the voting age from 18 to 16, as well proposals that would expand presidential powers during natural disasters or political “emergencies.?
Chávez called the proposed changes a move to return power to the people, but opponents accuse him of a “power grab,? said the BBC.
While the opposition in typically split among several small political parties, they jointly called for members to vote against the amendments. An “increasingly defiant? student movement also protested in Caracas and other large interior cities against the proposed changes, according to The New York Times.
Voter turnout was reported to be high in the capital, Caracas, a BBC correspondent there reported, while The New York Times added that turnout in some areas was “unexpectedly low,? especially in poor districts that are typically loyal to Chávez.
The BBC’s Americas editor, Emilio San Pedro, said these elections are believed to be as fair and free as every other election that has taken place since Chávez came to power in 1998.
According to The New York Times: “In recent days, Mr. Chávez has lashed out at his critics here and abroad, describing them as ‘little Yankees.’ He ordered troops to occupy oil installations over the weekend, threatening to cut off oil exports to the United States in the event of American interference in the referendum.?

The New York Times: