CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Venezuela's president said the army should get a political role when the country rewrites its constitution this year, newspapers reported Saturday.

President Hugo Chavez, a former army paratrooper who led a failed coup attempt seven years ago, has stirred controversy by using the military to help build public works and by appointing fellow coup participants to senior government posts.

``We have to leave behind the idea that the military is apolitical. That is the invention of those who think only they have the right to lead the country,'' Chavez told a crowd of soldiers Friday during a visit to the eastern city of Maturin, according to several Caracas newspapers.

He did not specifically say what kind of political role the military should assume.

Chavez's policies toward the military have alarmed Venezuelans who fear a greater role for the army in a region with a history of military abuses.

Chavez argues the armed forces can play an important role in developing a nation where more than half the population lives in poverty.

He has called for a national referendum April 25 to allow Venezuelans to vote for a constituent assembly to write a new constitution, which the president says is needed to root out corruption.