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Venezuela's army, police to keep order during referendum


MEXICO CITY, February 10 (RIA Novosti) - More than 140,000 military personnel will keep order in Venezuela during Sunday's national referendum on changing the country's constitution, a top army officer said on Monday.

Major General Jesus Gonzalez also noted that there would be tens of thousands of policemen on duty across the country during the voting. President Hugo Chavez has proposed changing the wording of the Constitution from "the president may be reelected only once" to simply "the president may be reelected" before his second term ends in 2012.

"I promise that we will do everything possible so that the national referendum occurs without incident and in an orderly fashion," Gonzalez said during a televised interview.

Thousands of people are expected to join opposition demonstrations across Venezuela to protest against the constitutional amendment. The opposition says changes to the Constitution would alter the country's democratic principles and "eternalize" Chavez's power as president.

Chavez's 21st Century Socialism Party will also be holding rallies in the capital, Caracas, and other major cities. Chavez's backers argue the amendment would expand the political rights of the people.

Over 50% of voters rejected a similar proposal as part of a package of constitutional amendments in a referendum in December 2007.

The global financial crisis has started to squeeze important social programs central to Chavez's plans for the country, and international observers are skeptical as to whether the latest move by the president to hold onto power indefinitely will be successful. With oil sales making up 95% of Venezuela's state revenues, the drop in global oil prices to around $40 per barrel from mid-2008 highs of $147 will seriously affect the Latin American country's budget, which is based on oil prices of $60 per barrel.

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