Tue, Nov 13, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Chavez suggests King Juan Carlos knew about coup

DIPLOMATIC ROW After being told to `shut up,' the Venezuelan president implied that the 2002 coup d'etat had the blessing of the Spanish monarch


Hugo Chavez suggested that Spanish King Juan Carlos knew in advance of a 2002 coup that briefly removed the Venezuelan president from power, stoking a diplomatic spat that arose after the monarch told Chavez to "shut up" at a summit.

Chavez, who was in Chile for the Ibero-American summit, claimed that Spain's ambassador had appeared at Venezuela's presidential palace during the two-day coup to support interim president Pedro Carmona -- with the King's blessing. Chavez asked how deeply Juan Carlos had been involved.

"Mr. King, did you know about the coup d'etat against Venezuela, against the democratic, legitimate government of Venezuela in 2002?" Chavez asked reporters on Sunday.

"It's very hard to imagine the Spanish ambassador would have been at the presidential palace supporting the coup-plotters without authorization from his majesty," Chavez said.

The Spanish embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, was closed on Sunday and phone calls seeking comment went unanswered. No one was available to comment at the royal palace in Madrid, Spain.

The spat began on Saturday when Chavez accused former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar of backing the 2002 coup and repeatedly called him "fascist" in an address at the summit of leaders from Latin America, Spain and Portugal.

"Fascists are not human. A snake is more human," Chavez said on Saturday.

Span's current socialist prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, asked Chavez to be more diplomatic and show respect for other leaders despite political differences.

"President Hugo Chavez, I think there is an essential principle to dialogue, and that is, to respect and be respected, we should be careful not to fall into insults," Zapatero said.

Chavez continued to interrupt as Zapatero spoke, although his microphone was off.

A frustrated King Juan Carlos, seated next to Zapatero, leaned toward Chavez and loudly asked: "Why don't you shut up?" The monarch then left the chamber.

"They told me some Spanish officials grabbed him by the arm, because he's strong and tall. He acted like an angry bull" as he stormed out, Chavez recalled in comments published on Sunday by Spain's El Mundo newspaper. "I'm no bullfighter -- but ole!"

Chavez, who faces violent protests at home against a proposed constitutional reform package that would greatly boost his power, said the incident had been exaggerated by the media.

"I hope this will not damage relations," Chavez said as he left his Santiago hotel room on Sunday. "But I think it's imprudent for a king to shout at a president to shut up."

Chavez regularly accuses Washington of helping orchestrate the 2002 coup against him -- a charge US officials deny. US and Spanish ambassadors did meet with Carmona and his newly appointed foreign minister on April 13, 2002, hours before Chavez was restored to power following massive demonstrations.

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