Venezuela's National Assembly have given initial approval to a measure that would allow Hugo Chavez, the country's president, to enact laws by decree for the following 18 months.

Chavez says the decree is necessary to introduce what he calls "revolutionary laws" which will enable major social, economic and political change in the country . Critics claim he is trying to build a totalitarian dictatorship along Cuban lines.

Cilia Flores president of the National Assembly told reporters "there will always be opponents, and especially when they know that these laws will deepen the revolution". Chavez recently won a landslide victory in the December elections.