World News

Venezuela's Chavez takes over opposition-run ports

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez speaks during a news conference at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, February 14, 2009. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday ordered the military takeover of the OPEC nation’s ports and airports, boosting the power of the central government after his allies lost key states in a 2008 regional vote.

The self-styled revolutionary in recent months has removed regional leaders’ control over services such as hospitals and police forces, sparking accusations he is undermining opposition elected officials and concentrating power.

Sunday’s announcement came just days after Congress passed legislation letting the central government take over roads, ports and airports if state leaders fail to adequately maintain them.

“We are going to take over ports and airports throughout the republic, whoever wants can oppose it, but it is the law of the republic,” Chavez said during his weekly Sunday broadcast.

He specifically mentioned the takeover of ports in three states run by opposition leaders including the state of Zulia, whose former governor Manuel Rosales is Chavez’s most high-profile adversary.

The president of Venezuela’s Congress, dominated by Chavez supporters, last week said the legislature was considering creating a new post that would be designated by the president to oversee the capital of Caracas -- currently run by an opposition mayor.

Chavez is broadly popular among country’s poor for his oil-financed social programs that have expanded health and education services. Last month he won a constitutional referendum letting him run for re-election as many times as he wants.

Opposition leaders say Chavez is concentrating power by using state resources to promote his own political party and limiting the ability of opposition governors and mayors to carry out basic tasks.

Reporting by Brian Ellsworth