Tue, Feb 21, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Sarcastic Chavez says he may seek to stay in power

AGENCIES , CARACAS

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whom the US calls a destabilizing force in the region, warned on Sunday he might seek constitutional change to be allowed to seek re-election several times.

Chavez, a leftist closely allied with communist Cuban President Fidel Castro, is seeking the one re-election allowed by the Constitution, in an election scheduled for Dec. 3.

"If there is no opposition candidate ... I would consider signing a decree to hold a referendum asking `Do you agree Chavez should be allowed to seek a new term in 2013?' and let's let the people decide," Chavez said on his weekly radio and TV program.

Venezuela approved a new Constitution in 1999 under which Chavez is able to stand for another six-year term.

Political opponents long have accused him of plotting to extend his government in the manner of his ally Castro.

"Maybe I won't be leaving the presidency in 2013, but in 2019, and then six more years would be 2025; six more would be 2031," Chavez said.

The thought, he explained, "is just an idea that I am working on."

During the broadcast, Chavez also warned US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice not to "mess with" him, days after Rice described Venezuela as a menace to regional democracy.

"Don't mess with me, Condoleezza. Don't mess with me, girl," Chavez said, sarcastically offering her a kiss and jokingly referring to her as "Condolence."

The warning comes days after Rice described Venezuela as one of the "biggest problems" for the Western hemisphere and promised to develop regional alliances as part of an "inoculation" strategy to expose what the US State Department calls anti-democratic behavior in Venezuela.

Chavez has repeatedly accused Washington of trying to topple him, and says the US will attempt to sow chaos this year as he launches a re-election bid.

Diplomatic relations between the US and Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter, have been strained since Chavez accused the US of plotting a coup d'etat that briefly ousted him in 2002.

The US State Department says that Chavez is using the nation's bountiful oil wealth to meddle in the affairs of neighboring countries, and has slammed him for boosting ties to US foes like Cuba and Iran.

Tensions between Washington and Caracas increased this month after Chavez expelled a US naval attache for alleged espionage.

The US State Department responded by expelling a top Venezuelan diplomat.

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