Thu, Nov 15, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Venezuelan president continues banter with Spain

HUGO AND THE KING The king said his comments were 'spontaneous' and claimed the Venezuelan president was trying to distract attention from problems 'back home'

AFP , CARACAS

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez holds his grandson, Jorge, before a press conference in Caracas, Venezuela, on Tuesday.

PHOTO: EPA

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Tuesday said Spain's King Juan Carlos showed a streak of "arrogance" when he told him to "shut up" during a presidential summit last week, as both governments strove to put the spat behind them.

"I don't want to harm relations with Spain, but we don't like to be pointed at and bite our tongue. Venezuela and its head of state must be respected," Chavez told a news conference.

At the Ibero-American summit in Santiago, Chile, Chavez on Friday branded Spain's former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar a "fascist" for allegedly having backed a 2002 coup attempt against him in Venezuela.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, 47, called on Chavez to show more respect, but the next day the Venezuelan leader repeated the attack, prompting an irate Juan Carlos to step in and demand of Chavez: "Why don't you just shut up?"

Chavez, 53, on Tuesday lambasted the monarch, saying he personified Spain's former centuries-long colonial rule in Latin America.

"Irate? The king was lucky I didn't hear him ... it's been more than 500 years of arrogance," Chavez said.

He also criticized Zapatero for defending Aznar and demanding that he be shown respect as a former elected prime minister.

"Hitler was elected by the Germans, does that mean that nobody can attack Hitler? That's so absurd, and that's the absurdity Zapatero came up with," Chavez said.

Aznar, 54, said on Tuesday that Chavez had attacked him merely to draw attention away from Venezuela's internal problems.

"I'm old enough to know some people need foreign enemies when things start going wrong back home ... Therefore, I'm not going to fan all that nonsense and lies. I will simply ignore them," said Aznar on Colombian television without mentioning Chavez by name.

Chavez meanwhile portrayed himself as the victim in the incident.

"Now they're saying I was the one who attacked the king. For the love of God, I didn't even see the king," Chavez said.

And he tried to explain the king's rebuke as a result of fatigue.

"I think the day before he had a long and intense workday," adding that he may have got tired "of hearing things, not only from me, but from Evo [Bolivian President Evo Morales] and Daniel [Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega] and other revolutionary comrades," Chavez said.

"The king blew up hearing all these things," Chavez said referring to the leftist rhetoric he, Morales and Ortega are becoming known for in Latin America.

"When he said `why don't you just shut up,' he was telling it to other people: `Why don't you all just shut up,'" Chavez said.

In Spain, Zapatero said on Tuesday that Juan Carlos, 69, had given a "spontaneous" reaction to Chavez' remarks on Saturday, and expressed hope that relations with Caracas would recover.

"Spain has given an appropriate response to an inappropriate attitude," he remarked to reporters.

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