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Venezuelans Vote On Constitutional Changes

Venezuelans Vote on Constitutional Changes

Venezuelans are lining up at polling stations to vote on proposed changes to the country's constitution that would greatly increase President Hugo Chavez's power.

Public opinion polls indicate Sunday's vote result is too close to predict.

Some international election observers are watching the poll, but observers from the European Union and the Organization of American States were not invited as they have been in the past.

The proposed constitutional changes would eliminate presidential term limits and grant the government sweeping powers in the event of a national emergency.

Thousands of people marched last week in Caracas in protests against the proposed changes. The following day, thousands rallied to support President Chavez.

Mr. Chavez on Saturday warned Washington not to interfere with the referendum, saying he will cut off oil sales to the United States if it does.

The U.S. Embassy in Caracas denied any attempts to interfere in the vote.

Mr. Chavez said if voters pass the constitutional changes, he is prepared to stay in power until 2050.

The referendum would also shorten the work day and extend social security programs to more workers.

Opposition parties, human rights groups and Roman Catholic Church leaders in Venezuela oppose the changes because of what they say is an unprecedented concentration of power in the president's hands. Mr. Chavez argues that revising the constitution is necessary to strengthen the people's voice in government.


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