Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez defended his plans on Thursday to rewrite dozens of laws by decree, saying his country had a vibrant democracy and that the world's real "tyranny" was led by US President George W. Bush.
Signing a newly approved congressional measure that grants him broad lawmaking powers, Chavez said it would allow for changes to lead the country toward socialism but said it posed no threat to democracy or individual freedoms.
"We are increasing power, but it's the power of the nation, national power. It's not anyone's personal power," Chavez said at a news conference.
Chavez lashed out at Bush for saying on Wednesday -- just as congress approved the special powers -- that he was concerned about an "undermining of democratic institutions" in Venezuela.
Condemning the war in Iraq, Chavez said that Bush and John Negroponte, a former director of national intelligence who was designated for the No. 2 position in the US State Department, should be tried for "war crimes" committed by the US military across the globe.
"The two of them are criminals. They should be tried and thrown in prison for the rest of their days," Chavez said, calling Bush "the devil himself" and saying he was "more dangerous than a monkey with a razor blade."
"I pray to God for the people of the United States. I hope they're capable of liberating themselves from the tyranny they have," he said.
"Who would be the greater fascist -- Hitler or Bush? They might end up in a draw," he said.
Relations between Caracas and Washington have been perpetually tense in recent months even though the US remains the leading buyer of Venezuelan oil.
Chavez's opponents at home have strongly criticized the "enabling law" approved on Wednesday by the entirely pro-Chavez National Assembly, calling it a lurch toward authoritarianism.
The measure gives Chavez, who is beginning a new six-year term, the power to pass dozens of laws by decree during the next 18 months in areas from the economy to the judicial system.
Opposition leader Manuel Rosales, who lost to Chavez in December's presidential vote, urged his followers to organize against the upcoming reforms.
"We either get to work or we will witness the coronation of Hugo the First, the first king Venezuelan society will have," Rosales said.
Chavez said that under the Constitution, his opponents had the right to petition for a referendum to annul any law he enacted by decree.
Among his next moves, Chavez plans to nationalize the country's leading telephone company and the electricity sector.
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