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Venezuela debates special powers for Maduro

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro pressed lawmakers Tuesday for special powers to fight corruption, in a move his rivals fear will lead to them being persecuted for political purposes.

"This is a matter of life or death for the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela," Maduro warned in an almost three-hour speech at the National Assembly.

"If corruption keeps expanding and perpetuating its destructive capitalist logic, there will be no socialism here," the elected leftist-populist said.

In addition "I will seek powers to confront the Right Wing's Economic War against the People. Victory will be ours!" Maduro tweeted ahead of his marathon speech.

It was not immediately clear how the president would secure support from 99 of 165 lawmakers -- the three-fifths majority needed to pass the broader powers law. He has a majority but it is not that broad.

The new law "will be a vital tool for a political and economic offensive in a New Stage of the Revolution," a confident Maduro tweeted referring to the government under him and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.

Dozens of pro-government activists were marching and cheering outside the National Assembly.

Though Maduro's supporters were energetic on the streets, he leads a country where his appeal is shaky, having defeated presidential rival Henrique Capriles by little more than one percent in this year's election.

Aside from rallying against corruption, Maduro -- whose government controls vast oil wealth and increasingly state economic controls -- has faced soaring inflation (over 32%), hard currency shortages and a lack of essential consumer items, such as toilet paper.

The president says the private sector is trying to sow chaos and fuel protests that could topple his government and he is keen to force his hand on some economic supply chain issues.

Capriles dared the government to imprison him and accused the president of corruption, and of using his fight against bribery to persecute the election runner-up.

Capriles contends that Maduro seeks to weaken the opposition with an eye on local elections on December 8, which Capriles says are a "referendum" on the socialist government.

The National Assembly has already prosecuted two opposition deputies for corruption. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan justice system is investigating two opposition governors and opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

Maduro said that "there are no untouchables" in his crusade against corruption, citing several examples of his own officials being arrested.

Former president Chavez, who died on March 5, used special powers to legislate in 2000, 2001, 2008 and 2010, periods when more than 200 laws where enacted.

Maduro, a firebrand anti-US populist in the mold of his predecessor Chavez, has maintained Venezuela's activist foreign policy, spending billions to subsidize oil for its regional allies, notably the cash-strapped communist Cuban government.

Amid rampant street crime and other woes, on September 3 an electrical blackout left 70 percent of the South American OPEC-member country without power for hours.

The government has blamed the opposition, saying it seeks to create social unrest. It also has suggested that US diplomats were involved.

The United States says it has sought to improve ties with Caracas since the death of Chavez, but little progress has been made. Still, the United States is Venezuela's top oil buyer, purchasing 900,000 barrels a day.

Venezuela ranks 165 on a list of 176 countries in terms of its success in fighting corruption, according to an index compiled by Transparency International, released last December.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131008/venezuela-debates-special-powers-maduro