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Chávez denies offering base to Russia

Associated Press / March 16, 2009
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CARACAS - President Hugo Chávez said yesterday that Russian bombers would be welcome in Venezuela, but the socialist leader denied that his country would offer Moscow its territory for a military base.

Chávez - a fierce critic of Washington with close ties to Russia and Cuba - said his government did not raise the possibility, as Russian media had reported.

"It's not like that," the president said, responding to a report by Interfax news agency quoting the chief of staff of Russia's long range aviation, Major General Anatoly Zhikharev, as saying some strategic bombers could be based on an island offered by Venezuela.

Zhikharev reportedly said Saturday that Chávez had offered "a whole island with an airdrome, which we can use as a temporary base for strategic bombers."

Speaking during his weekly television and radio program, Chávez said he told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that his nation's bombers would be allowed to land in Venezuela if necessary, but no such plans have been made.

Also yesterday, Chávez deployed the navy to Venezuela's seaports, and he said state governors who challenge new legislation bringing transportation hubs under federal control could end up in prison.

Chávez ordered naval vessels to seize control of Port Cabello in Carabobo state and Maracaibo Port in Zulia state, two of Venezuela's largest seaports.

Then he singled out the opposition-sided governors of those states - Carabobo Governor Henrique Salas and Zulia Governor Pablo Perez - and told military officers they might decide to flout the newly approved law.

"If he gets smart . . . that deserves prison," Chávez said of Salas. "The same goes for the governor of Zulia."

Lawmakers loyal to Chávez voted last week to bring all airports, highways and seaports under federal control, a move government adversaries said was designed to expand the president's power.

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