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International Support For Gadhafi Led By Venezuela

The United States has demanded that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi step down in the face of atrocities by Libya's military. So have some European nations. But Gadhafi still has a few friends left, and they are led by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez.

When Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak fell, Chavez's government called it the will of the people, saying the U.S.-backed puppet had to go. But Chavez, a leftist populist who opposes American foreign policy, has had quite a different take on Gadhafi.

"Reports that Gadhafi bombed Tripoli and attacked civilians were lies hatched up by the media," Chavez said.

And he warned that the United States — "the Empire," as he calls it — was about to invade to seize Libya's oil. He took the stand with his alliance of small leftist countries, including Nicaragua and Cuba.

"We demand the United States respect the people of Libya," Chavez said. "No to the imperialist intervention of Libya. No to an imperialist war for oil."

Chavez also said Gadhafi would never turn and run — that he is going to stay and die fighting if he has to.

The position has put Chavez and his allies in stark contrast to the rest of Latin America, says Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, D.C.

"Peru has taken the hardest line and broke relations with Libya and also a call for a no-fly zone," Shifter said. "The new government in Brazil has also taken a very strong view in the U.N. Security Council, leading the vote — which is a unanimous vote — against Libya as well."

Shifter says it appears Venezuela is supportive of Gadhafi because Libya and Venezuela share the same ideological opposition to Washington, D.C.

"There's a common bond of anti-U.S. sentiment. There is this sense of standing up to the superpower, which is the United States, and that has created some sort of solidarity," Shifter added.

Chavez allied himself with Gadhafi soon after taking office in 1999. In 2004, Gadhafi gave Chavez the Al-Gadhafi International Prize for Human Rights. Later came the Hugo Chavez Stadium in Libya.

Then in 2009, Chavez awarded Gadhafi a replica of Simon Bolivar's sword. Bolivar was Venezuela's 19th-century liberator and is a guiding light for Chavez. In fact, Chavez told followers that Gadhafi was Libya's Simon Bolivar.

Now Chavez has proposed a vague peace mission to get the two sides in Libya to negotiate.

His stand regarding Libya, whose human rights abuses are condemned worldwide, has puzzled some Venezuelans.

Lawyer Bernardo Pulido, 24, in recent years was among university students who protested against Chavez. They accused him of authoritarian tendencies.

"What commercial, cultural or other relationship could Venezuela have with Libya?" Pulido asked.

Some analysts believe Chavez is closely following the events in the Arab world because he, too, has faced strong protests in the past.

"He [Chavez] wants to stay in power, I think, indefinitely," said Margarita Lopez Maya, a political analyst in Caracas. "But these kinds of problems that leaders similar to him confront may serve as a lesson to him."

And she believes it's a lesson that won't be lost on the Venezuelan leader.

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Juan Forero