Venezuelans have voted to scrap the term limits on re-election, clearing the way for President Hugo Chavez to stay in power until he's voted out of office.
Cheering crowds filled the streets of the Venezuelan capital, as supporters of Hugo Chavez celebrated his referendum victory deep into the night.
Electoral authorities said 54 percent of voters backed the scrapping of limits on re-election, clearing the way for the retired paratrooper to stay in office until he's defeated at the ballot box.
It was the second attempt to scrap term limits after voters narrowly rejected a similar referendum in 2007.
After a turbulent decade in power, Chavez insists he needs another 10 years to consolidate his socialist revolution. He faces re-election in four years time.
Wearing his signature red shirt, the Venezuelan leader addressed thousands of flag-waving supporters from the balcony of the Miraflores Palace.
(SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ, SAYING:
"The dignity of the patriots has won against those that deny patriotism. Perseverance has won."
But with the global crisis overshadowing his win, Chavez avoided announcing new policies -- as he usually does in victory speeches.
Instead, he pledged to fight crime and corruption, which have weighed on his popularity in recent years.
The defeat was a huge blow for the fragmented opposition, after it had made gains in city and state elections last year.
To his critics, Chavez is an autocrat bent on turning Venezuela into a replica of Castro's Cuba.
But he enjoys the loyalty of many poor Venezuelans, who say they've benefited from his redistributive social policies.
That loyalty may be tested in the months ahead as the President grapples with the worldwide economic slowdown, which has seen the oil-exporting giant's income drop sharply.
Helen Long, Reuters
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