Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez speaks during a meeting with Socialist party members in Caracas (Reuters)
Venezuela's parliament gave President Hugo Chavez the power to rule by decree for 18 months on Friday, outraging opponents who accuse him of turning South America's biggest oil producer into a dictatorship.
The move consolidated the firebrand socialist leader's hold on power after nearly 12 years in office, and raised the prospect of a fresh wave of nationalizations as the former paratrooper seeks to entrench his self-styled "revolution."
As he signed the legislation, Chavez mocked opposition politicians. "They will not be able to create even one law, little Yankees," he said. "We will win ... let's see how they are going to make laws now."
Chavez had asked for the fast-track powers for one year, saying he needed them to deal with a national emergency caused by floods that drove nearly 140,000 people from their homes.
But the National Assembly, dominated by loyalists from his Socialist Party, decided to extend them for 18 months.
That means the president can rule by decree until mid-2012, and can keep opposition parties out of the legislative process until his re-election campaign is well under way for Venezuela's next presidential vote in December of that year.
The president of parliament, Cilia Flores, said lawmakers must heed the appeals of families afflicted by the floods.
"It is raised to 18 months at the proposal of those immediately affected, the same people who are there relying on Comandant Chavez," she told the Assembly earlier.
"So that they can have their streets, their highways, public services, electricity, everything to live in dignity, we are going to hear these proposals and concerns."
The vote was part of a legislative onslaught to push through bills before a new Assembly is seated on 5 January. Earlier on Friday, parliament passed a law making it easier for the government to nationalize banks and trim their profits.