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Venezuela lawmakers reject economic crisis plan
[CARACAS] Ja Venezuelan opposition lawmakers on Friday rejected President Nicolas Maduro's bid to decree a state of economic emergency, deepening a political crisis in the oil-rich nation.
Friday was the deadline for the opposition-controlled National Assembly to vote on Maduro's decree, which would have given him special powers to intervene in the economic crisis.
But his rivals in the assembly refused to pass it, prolonging a tense political standoff in the volatile South American state, where citizens are suffering shortages of food and goods.
"We reject this decree because it means just more of the same," said Jose Guerra, head of the congressional commission that examined the decree before the vote.
"The cause of the problem is a failed economic model." Lawmakers voted by 107 votes to 53 to reject the measure.
The pro-government camp vowed to fight on to get its way.
"See you in the Supreme Court. Yes to the decree!" yelled deputy Diosdado Cabello, the second most senior figure in Maduro's leadership, during the vote.
The opposition accuses Mr Maduro of packing the court with his allies and fears he may use it to push through his measures.
The decree, issued a week ago, would give Mr Maduro 60 days of extraordinary powers to commandeer private companies' resources, impose currency controls and take other unspecified measures.
The opposition speaker of the congress, Henry Ramos Allup, accused Maduro's government of failing to give lawmakers the information they needed to properly debate the plan.
"It would be totally irresponsible for the National Assembly to blindly approve a decree of such magnitude, scope and implications, without having any information because the government itself refused to provide it," he said on television.
He said lawmakers suspended a session of the assembly in which the government was due to defend the decree because the ministers did not show up.
Mr Maduro's economic team pulled out at the last minute, saying they would only participate if it was closed to the media, Ramos said.
Mr Maduro accused the opposition of trying to turn the assembly into a "show".
"I very much regret that the majority which controls the National Assembly is turning its back on the country at this time," Mr Maduro said in a speech.
Announcing the decree last week, Mr Maduro admitted Venezuela was in a "catastrophic" economic state.
He called on the assembly to approve the decree and help him "navigate this crisis." But he vowed to resist any shift towards what he called "neoliberal" policies.
"You will have to come and overthrow me if you want to pass a privatization law. No, no and no!" The same day, Venezuela's central bank released its first economic growth and inflation statistics in more than a year.
The figures showed the economy shrank 4.5 per cent in the first nine months of 2015.
Annualized inflation in September hit a painful 141.5 per cent, fueled by crippling shortages.
Mr Maduro said his emergency plan would allow the government to shore up its health, housing, education and food services.
He vowed to overhaul the country's system of production to shift it away from the oil revenue on which his social spending programmes have relied.
Venezuela has the world's biggest known crude oil reserves but the price of oil has plunged over the past year and a half, slashing its revenues.
Analysts say the political deadlock threatens to worsen the hardship that drove voters to hand the opposition a landslide election victory last month.
They have warned of the risk of a repeat of violent street clashes that left 43 people dead in 2014.