Chavez supporters close Congress

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The Independent Online
A CONSTITUTIONAL assembly dominated by supporters of the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, stripped Congress of its remaining powers yesterday, effectively shutting down the legislature in one of South America's oldest democracies.

The assembly, which had already sharply limited Congress' duties when it declared a "legislative emergency" last week, voted to usurp its remaining powers, including the right to approve presidential trips overseas and budget outlays.

The assembly said it took the action because the opposition-controlled Congress was interfering with the assembly's main work: writing a new constitution for Venezuela, the world's third-largest oil producer, and reforming corruption-riddled public institutions.

Opposition lawmakers said it was a move by Mr Chavez, the leader of a 1992 coup attempt, to consolidate his power.

The opposition said it is still fighting to keep Congress alive. It has filed a Supreme Court lawsuit saying the assembly's moves are illegal. But the court's powers have also been curtailed by the assembly. AP