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Venezuela president kicks off reform vote campaign

Huge crowds cheered President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela's capital Sunday as he kicked off a referendum campaign to further his power-consolidating socialist reforms -- a drive that has sparked deadly protests.

Thousands of people dressed in red filled the city streets as Chavez passed on the back of a truck to officially launch his push for a yes vote in the December 2 referendum on the controversial constitutional reforms that would expand his powers.

"On December 2, when night falls, we will present to the world another great victory ... the victory of the 'yes'" vote, Chavez told the crowd.

"Of all the referendums, I have no doubt this coming one is the most important," he said. The "great objective is to approve the constitutional reform. Approve it so resoundingly that there is no doubt the great majority of Venezuelans say yes."

Supporters of all ages and from all corners of the country, many wearing caps and t-shirts with the slogans, "Yes, with Chavez," watched as he paraded with his vice-president, several ministers and lawmakers, before speaking from a platform.

Venezuela's National Assembly on Friday approved by a large majority the series of controversial constitutional reforms. The assembly is packed with Chavez supporters after opposition parties boicotted the 2005 parliamentary election.

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