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Venezuelan president wins key referendum

VENEZUELAN President Hugo Chavez won a referendum to eliminate term limits on Sunday and vowed to remain in power for at least another decade to complete his socialist revolution. Opponents accepted defeat but said Chavez is becoming a dictator.

Fireworks exploded in the sky and caravans of supporters celebrated in the streets, waving red flags and honking horns. Thousands of people gathered outside Miraflores Palace, where the former paratroop commander appeared on a balcony to sing the national anthem and address the crowd.

"Those who voted 'yes' today voted for socialism, for revolution," Chavez said. He called the victory ?? which allows all public officials to run for re-election indefinitely ?? a mandate to speed his transformation of Venezuela into a socialist state.

"Today we opened wide the gates of the future," he said. "In 2012 there will be presidential elections, and unless God decides otherwise, unless the people decide otherwise, this soldier is already a candidate."

With 94 percent of the vote counted, 54 percent had voted for the constitutional amendment, National Electoral Council chief Tibisay Lucena said. Turnout was 67 percent.

At their campaign headquarters, Chavez opponents hugged one another, and some cried. Several opposition leaders said they wouldn't contest the vote.

"We're democrats. We accept the results," said opposition leader Omar Barboza.

But they said the results were skewed by Chavez's broad use of state resources to campaign for a "yes" vote, through a battery of state-run news media, plus pressure on 2 million public employees and frequent presidential speeches that all television stations were required to air.

Opponents say Chavez already has far too much power, with the courts, the legislature and the election council all under his influence. Removing the 12-year presidential term limit, they say, makes him unstoppable.


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