Chavez says to skip UN meet after 2006 sulphur ire

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CARACAS, Sep 25 (Reuters) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he will skip this week's UN General Assembly, one year after he told the annual meeting of heads of state in a speech that US President George W Bush was the devil.

Chavez, who hosts Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad later this week, had been due to deliver a speech tomorrow at the gathering at the United Nations' headquarters in New York.

But the self-styled socialist revolutionary, whose foreign policy focuses on using oil ties to build alliances against US ''imperialism,'' said he was too busy to make the meeting, according to a presidency statement issued late on Monday.

Last year, Chavez angered many Americans and drew charges from Republicans and Democrats alike that he was uncouth after he told the U.N. chamber he could still smell sulphur at the podium following Bush's speech there a day earlier.

Chavez says he did not plan the remark but that he became emotional and spoke from the heart as he thought about Bush's foreign policy in places like Iraq.

Diplomats say the speech cost Venezuela a two-year seat on the UN Security Council because it swayed many countries to vote against the OPEC nation's bid in what was a major foreign policy goal for Chavez last year.

Chavez clashes with Washington over everything from free trade to crude oil prices to arms deals, even though Venezuela is major oil supplier to the United States.

US officials say the man who calls Cuban leader Fidel Castro his mentor undermines Venezuela's democracy and is a destabilising influence in the region.

REUTERS JK PM1850

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