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Venezuela Nearing New Constitution

October 20, 1999

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ Venezuela’s president said during a visit to Malaysia on Wednesday that he is expects his nation to have a new constitution by the end of the year.

President Hugo Chavez said the proposed constitution being debated by the constitutional assembly this week could be approved by voters in a national referendum by late November or early December.

``So, we can end the year with a new constitution,″ he said at the end of a three-day state visit to the Southeast Asian nation. He said the constitution will go into effect the day it is endorsed.

Supporters of Chavez say it will help clean up corruption and ease poverty in the oil-rich South American nation. But his critics say the current constitution is fundamentally sound and that adopting a new one is mainly a symbolic act.

Chavez, who won a landslide electoral victory last December, has made the new constitution the centerpiece of his first year in office. His supporters control 92 percent of the seats in the constitutional assembly.

Chavez said the new document ``will be the beginning of a new era ... the beginning of the real structural change of our country.″

The Venezuelan leader was in Malaysia as part of a tour to explore closer economic ties between his country and Asian nations.

After talks with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the two leaders signed a joint statement promising to extend cooperation in various field of agriculture and technology.

Chavez was accompanied by a 100-member delegation that included 11 Cabinet ministers. He visited China, Japan, Korea and Hong Kong before arriving in Kuala Lumpur. He is scheduled to visit Singapore and the Philippines before returning home.

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