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Chavez opens his palace to Venezuelan homeless

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez visits a homeless shelter in the low-income neighbourhood of Catia, one of the rain affected areas in Caracas November 28, 2010. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan socialist leader Hugo Chavez has invited 25 families made homeless by recent torrential rains to stay temporarily at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas.

More than a dozen people have died and thousands have been forced from their houses after weeks of downpours in Venezuela that have caused flooding and mudslides.

Chavez, who is criticized for failing to provide more new housing during his 11 years in office but blames the problem on his free-market predecessors, said he would open his spacious, whitewashed palace in downtown Caracas to some of the victims.

Security staff would give up some of their quarters, and he would provide an office, Chavez said late on Sunday.

“The security personnel have a huge kitchen which about 20 families can use,” Chavez said on state TV.

“I have three offices, the second one can be turned into three little apartments. They’re going to start moving in.”

Following their president’s lead, National Assembly officials said space in parliament could also be temporarily used as a refuge for victims of the rains chaos.

Supporters praise Chavez as the first leader in Venezuela to care for the poor. But critics scoff at him as a populist seeking votes with gimmicky measures that fail to address the South American country’s underlying problems.

Chavez berated Venezuela’s private entrepreneurs over the weekend for worsening the nation’s housing problem by seeking profit before the general good in construction projects.

Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Doina Chiacu