Hugo Chavez Visits “Europe’s Last Dictator”
AP via Cincinnati Enquirer:
MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez hailed the man dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” Monday as he started an international tour by visiting the authoritarian leader of the isolated former Soviet nation of Belarus.
Chavez, a former army lieutenant colonel and a frequent, harsh critic of the Bush administration, was greeted with hugs and smiles by President Alexander Lukashenko at the presidential palace in Minsk.
Lukashenko, like Chavez, accuses the United States of trying to overthrow him. He has been in power since 1994.
The Belarusian leader has been criticized by the international community for quashing dissent, jailing opponents and extending his time in office through votes widely considered illegitimate. The United States and European Union slapped sanctions and a visa ban on Lukashenko and other top officials following presidential elections in March that the opposition denounced as fraudulent.
“Here, I’ve got a new friend and together we’ll form a team, a go-ahead team,” Chavez said before one-on-one talks. “I thank you, Alexander, for solidarity and we’ve come here to demonstrate our solidarity.”
Lukashenko, an open admirer of the Soviet Union, returned the praise, calling the president of the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter “a man of extensive knowledge.”
“You are versed not only in the economy of Venezuela but in the Belarus economy, as well. You know military science, the military-industrial complex, and this impresses me very much,” he said. “We have many directions for cooperation. There are no closed topics for discussions in our cooperation with Venezuela.”