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Venezuela's Chavez Considers Arming One Million People

Venezuela's Chavez Considers Arming One Million People
Associated Press

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Saturday that he was considering the
purchase of enough rifles to arm one million Venezuelans ready to repel a
possible U.S. invasion.

During a speech warning his supporters that Washington was considering an
invasion of Venezuela, Chavez said that 100,000 Russian-built Kalashnikov
assault rifles would not be enough to defend the country.
"We still need a higher number of rifles. The 100,000 Russian rifles are
not enough, Venezuela needs to have one million well-equipped and
well-armed men and women," he said.
"I've started making contacts with some countries" that would be able to
supply the rifles, Chavez told the crowd of supporters to a rousing

Tensions between Washington and Caracas have been tense in recent months
in part due to U.S. criticism of Venezuela's purchases of military
equipment, including 100,000 Russian-made assault rifles.
During Saturday's speech, Chavez extended his war of words with
Washington, comparing U.S. President George W. Bush to Nazi leader Adolf
Hitler while commemorating a failed 1992 coup he led as a lieutenant

"If any president in this world is similar, including physically, to Adolf
Hitler it is Mr. Danger," said Chavez, prompting cheers from his
supporters following a march through Caracas.

"The imperialist, mass murdering, fascist attitude of the president of the
United States doesn't have limits. I think Hitler could be a nursery baby
next to George W. Bush," Chavez added.

The Venezuelan leader's statements came amid one of the worst diplomatic
spats between Caracas and Washington in recent years.

They came in response to comments made on Thursday by U.S. Defense
Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who compared Chavez to Hitler and warned
darkly about populist leadership in Bolivia and Cuba.

Earlier Saturday, tens of thousands of Chavez supporters wearing replicas
of the president's trademark beret marched through the Venezuelan capital
shouting "Yankee Imperialism, No! Revolution, Yes!"

"Chavistas," as the president's backers are known, accused the United
States of conspiring to overthrow Chavez, saying U.S. spies have attempted
to stir discontent within the military in hopes of ousting him.

"The gringos are trying to infiltrate Venezuela's armed forces, but Chavez
is here to stay," said Vladimir Enriquez, a 44-year-old mechanic.

Enriquez, and others who joined the sea of government supporters,
criticized Washington for ordering a Venezuelan diplomat to leave the
country in what the State Department said Friday was retaliation for the
expulsion of a U.S. naval officer from Caracas a day earlier.

Venezuela expelled U.S. naval attache John Correa for allegedly passing
secret information from Venezuelan military officers to the Pentagon.

Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel said Saturday that Chavez "would soon
present conclusive and irrefutable proof of the naval commander's
conspiratorial activities."

"We aren't going to present them to (U.S. Ambassador William) Brownfield,
we are going to present them to the Venezuelan people," he said.

On the other side of Caracas, thousands of opposition sympathizers marched
to protest what they perceive as increasing authoritarianism under Chavez
and strongly condemned the bloody coup attempt he led as a lieutenant
colonel 14 years ago.

More than 80 civilians and 17 soldiers were killed on February 4, 1992,
before troops loyal to then-President Carlos Andres Perez quelled the
short-lived putsch. Chavez has celebrated the rebellion's anniversary
every year since he took office in 1999.

Chavez supporters remember the failed coup as a violent but justified
attempt to replace a corrupt government.

The president's political adversaries argue the failed coup was an
unnecessary uprising that threatened one of South America's oldest

"Venezuela's democracy is threatened" by Chavez, said 60-year-old retiree
Luis Cuevas, who accused the president of "looking for problems with the
United States" as a means of turning attention away from the country's
domestic problems.

Chavez has repeatedly accused the United States of plotting to overthrow
him, or even invade Venezuela. He says an invasion would trigger an
immediate halt to oil shipments. Washington has strongly denied any such