UPDATE 3-Venezuela's Chavez may cut short decree rule
* Chavez says may relinquish decree powers by May 1
* Sends message of friendship to Obama
* Offended by soap opera featuring "Little Hugo" dog (Updates with more quotes, details, message to Obama)
By Andrew Cawthorne and Diego Ore
CARACAS, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Denying he was a dictator, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez offered on Saturday to give up much-criticized decree powers a year ahead of schedule if post-flood emergency measures were implemented quickly.
Addressing parliament, the socialist leader complained he was being "demonized" around the world and was prepared to give up on May 1 the powers he had been granted until mid-2012, months before the presidential election in December 2012 when Chavez plans to run again.
Critics at home and abroad have said Chavez's assumption of decree rule showed he was an autocrat determined to impose Cuban-style communism in the South American OPEC member.
"There is a campaign to make me out to be a devil. ... How on earth can they say the Enabling Law means we are in a dictatorship?" he said of the bill granting him decree powers.
"I am capable of asking this National Assembly to overturn the Enabling Law. ... So if anyone feels restricted (by the law), then I'll send it back, I have no problem."
For full coverage, click [ID:nVEDECREES]
Chavez pledged to work harder and faster to push through decrees by May he says are needed for reconstruction and relief after floods left nearly 140,000 homeless.
"In four to five months we may be able to carry out all the laws to manage the emergency," he said.
Chavez has led Venezuela on an increasingly radical path since 1999 and requested decree powers from the outgoing parliament at the end of last year.
Critics said his real intention was to undermine the incoming National Assembly, which has a greater number of opposition lawmakers who had been relishing the chance to try to block Chavez's agenda.
During a speech that was into its sixth hour by early evening, the famously garrulous president welcomed the presence of opposition parties that had returned to parliament for the first time since a 2005 boycott of a legislative election.
"I am very happy to greet the opposition lawmakers. Really, no irony intended," said Chavez, who frequently slams his foes as "ultra-right," "bourgeoisie" and "little Yankees." He chatted and shook hands with them before he spoke.
OFFERS HAND TO OBAMA
The Venezuelan leader also sent a message of friendship to U.S. President Barack Obama, recounting to parliament his recent handshake and chat with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a meeting in Brazil.
"I said to her, 'Tell Obama that this hand I am giving you now, I offer to him too,'" Chavez said.
Political tensions between Washington and Caracas have come to the fore again in recent weeks with Chavez's rejection of Obama's choice of ambassador, and the withdrawal of the Venezuelan envoy's visa in retaliation. [ID:nN30115567]
Chavez took offense at a Colombian soap opera that features a loud and gossipy secretary called "Venezuela" who has a dog called "Little Hugo" in an obvious parody of him.
"What lack of respect for Venezuela. I'm pleased Televen has taken it off the air," Chavez said of the program that private TV station Televen pulled after a complaint from Venezuela's state telecommunications regulator.[ID:nN14201490]
The row over the soap opera, "Chepe Fortuna," comes in the context of constant diplomatic ruptures between the ideologically opposed governments in Bogota and Caracas since Chavez took office.
In his speech to parliament, Chavez also pledged to invest $21 billion over the coming years to increase the OPEC member's electricity capacity by 15,000 megawatts.
Power shortages were a factor hindering Venezuela's economy in 2010. It shrank an estimated 1.9 percent, the only major economy in Latin America still in recession.
Chavez said Venezuela was on the road to recovery and would hopefully grow by more than 2 percent in 2011. (Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago and Marianna Parraga; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)
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