A former paratrooper, Chavez announced the hike at a time when his political opponents are campaigning for a referendum to vote him out of office.

"I have decided that from 1 January, 2004 onward, the salary of all professional members of the armed forces will be increased by 30%," the Venezuelan president said in a broadcast on state television on Sunday.

The pay hike decision assumes significance, particularly since Chavez survived a brief coup last year.

Loyal Troops

Some rebel generals and admirals had briefly toppled Chavez in April, 2002, before loyal troops reinstated him as the president.

The left-wing Chavez describes the military as a strategic pillar of Venezuela's "revolution."

"United, the soldiers and the people are invincible," he said.

Chavez also called on the military to be vigilant against attempted "subversion" by his political opponents.