Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez uses new powers for flood fund

People evacuating homes in Higuerote, Venezuela, on 5 December 2010.
Image caption The opposition has accused Mr Chavez of taking advantage of the flooding to gain more powers

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has made his first use of new decree powers to create a fund for reconstruction after recent flooding.

Mr Chavez said the first part of the initial $2.3bn (£1.5bn) fund would be used to build houses in the western state of Zulia.

He said the new powers were needed to respond to the disaster that left more than 130,000 people homeless.

But critics say they will allow him to repress dissent.

They say he has cynically exploited the flooding earlier this month to gain greater powers before the opposition takes up more seats in the National Assembly in January, enabling it to block some laws.

But speaking on television, Mr Chavez said: "They [the opposition] do nothing for the people, and they are trying to stop me working for the people."

He added: "Where do those crazy people get the idea it is to install a dictatorship in Venezuela?"

The National Assembly earlier this month granted Mr Chavez broad powers to enact laws by decree for a year and a half. The opposition has called for protests against the move.

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