Venezuela to expel foreign critics

Chavez orders officials to monitor statements made by visiting international figures.

    Chavez said foreigners cannot be allowed
    to come to Venezuela to attack him [AP]

    He said: "No foreigner, whoever he may be, can come here and attack us. Whoever comes, we must remove him from the country. I'm talking about some gentlemen who come here for conferences."

    The Venezuelan leader did not elaborate, but his statements came after Manuel Espino, the president of Mexico's conservative ruling party, criticised Chavez for seeking indefinite rule during a recent pro-democracy forum in Caracas.

    Government opponents argue Chavez is becoming increasingly authoritarian and cracking down on dissent as he steers Venezuela towards what he calls "21st-century socialism".

    Chavez rejects such allegations, saying that democratic freedoms have been extended since he was first elected in 1998. He says his government has empowered the poor by giving them increased decision-making authority in politics.

    Private property

    During Sunday's six-hour programme, Chavez assured private property owners that their rights will be guaranteed under a pending constitutional reform.

    "Private property will respected," he said.

    Many wealthy Venezuelans fear second homes, yachts or other assets could be seized as Chavez advances his Bolivarian Revolution, a movement named after Simon Bolivar, the South American independence hero. Chavez denies any such plans.

    Chavez is expected to present his reform proposal to the National Assembly, which is controlled by his allies, in the coming weeks.

    Few details have emerged from a special executive committee that he appointed to draft a proposal for overhauling the country's charter.

    Salaries

    Also on Sunday, Chavez announced an initiative to slash the salaries of Venezuela's highest-ranking public servants.

    He said no public servant should make more than $7,000 a month. Most Venezuelans make a minimum wage - roughly $250 a month.

    Reducing the pay of senior officials has become a popular move in Latin America.

    The presidents of Nicaragua, Bolivia, Peru and Costa Rica recently cut salaries, including their own, in response to widespread criticism.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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