Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro gets special powers

Nicolas Maduro (r) signed the bill watched by National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello. 19 Nov 2013 Nicolas Maduro, right, signed the bill watched by National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello

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Venezuela's National Assembly has given final approval to special powers for President Nicolas Maduro.

Under the measures Mr Maduro will be able to govern without consulting Congress for 12 months.

After signing the bill, he promised to keep prices down and conduct a "ground-shaking" anti-corruption offensive.

The president says the aim of the new powers is to tackle the economic crisis. However, critics fear he may use them against the opposition.

Venezuela is facing shortages of food and other essential goods, as well as power cuts and about 54% inflation.

Mr Maduro has already forced retailers to slash prices by up to 60%, as part of his fight against what he calls "economic sabotage".

'Economic war'

The government has also imposed strict controls over the sale of foreign currency, to combat a growing black market of dollars.

But it says the special powers will allow it to step up its "economic war" and bring the country back to growth.

But Mr Maduro said the law will also be used in a "higher fight" against corruption.

"The prices came down and with the Enabling Act, they will stay where they should," he said.

The opposition, however, says Mr Maduro already had enough powers.

"What does Maduro needs more powers for? He handles the economy," opposition MP Andres Velasquez told the Venezuelan TV Globovision.

Approval of the "Ley Habilitante", or Enabling Act, was widely expected after the first reading on 14 November. The government needed 99 votes to pass the bill.

The deeply divided oil-producing country is going to the polls on 8 December for local elections.

Former President Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer in March, resorted to Enabling Acts four times during his 14 years in power.

His vice-president and handpicked successor, Mr Maduro, has pledged to continue his policies but does not command the same support enjoyed by Mr Chavez.

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