Reports that Hugo Chavez tempers his support for Gaddafi

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez said he supports the government of fellow OPEC member Libya but shied away from defending his friend Muammar Gaddafi, whose troops diplomats and Libyans say have shot protesters.

Chavez said he had not been able to talk with Gaddafi and could only rely on media reports he suspected of being biased for information about events in the North African country.

“I can’t say that I support, or am in favour, or applaud all the decisions taken by any friend of mine in any part of the world, no, one is at a distance. But we do support the government of Libya,” Chavez said late on Friday during a cabinet meeting.

Poor neighbourhoods of the Libyan capital Tripoli openly defied Gaddafi yesterday as his grip on power after 41 years of rule looked increasingly tenuous in the face of the nationwide revolt.

On Thursday, Chavez described what was happening in Libya as a civil war and his foreign minister said it looked like some western powers wanted to break up and occupy the Mediterranean nation for its oil.

Fellow Latin American leftists President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Cuba’s former leader Fidel Castro have expressed similar opinions.

Much of Libya’s eastern oil-producing region is in the hands of rebels. Chavez has long said his own opponents have separatist plans for Venezuela’s own oil rich provinces.

Chavez has showered Gaddafi with gifts and praise on six visits to Libya since he won office in 1998 and Gaddafi gave him a Bedouin tent when he came to Venezuela in 2009.

“I have not been able to talk with Gaddafi these last days,” Chavez said, adding he had until now kept a “prudent silence” because “there is a lot of misinformation” about both Libya and the recent revolution in Egypt.

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