Chavez expresses solidarity with Belarus' leader

The Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez expressed solidarity with authoritarian Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko, saying Washington has characterized both as "dictators" because they have battled U.S. imperialism.

"Our two republics are daughters of the same birth and today we are firmer than ever in resisting and overcoming the currents that try to crush the world, the currents of U.S. imperialism," Chavez said in a televised speech to visiting government officials from the former Soviet republic.

"Mister Devil (U.S. President George Bush) calls Lukashenko 'Europe's last dictator' ... they call us dictators because we oppose the U.S. dictatorship," Chavez said. "Long live Venezuela! Long live Belarus!"

Lukashenko, who shares Chavez's anti-U.S. views, has ruled the isolated Eastern European nation since 1994 and has regularly quashed dissent, jailed opponents and extended his time in office through votes widely considered fraudulent.

Chavez, who visited Belarus in July, has cited Lukashenko's authoritarian system as a model for his country where he says he is leading a socialist revolution.

The Venezuelan leader has sought increasingly close ties with U.S. foes like Belarus, Cuba and Iran.