Venezuela's President Chavez to visit Russia

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Moscow, Sep 17 (UNI) Amid the Russia-Georgia crisis and heightening of diplomatic tensions between Washington and Caracas, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez will pay a visit to Moscow next week.

''Next week I will travel to China, Portugal and then Russia,'' RIA Novosti news agency quoted Chavez as saying at a press conference in Caracas today.

Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, who is on the second leg of a tour to Latin America, met the Leftist leader yesterday.

Sechin arrived in Caracas from Havana, leading a high level delegation to get first hand information on the damage to Cuba following two recent hurricanes. The delegation included the Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko and the state technology corporation CEO Sergei Chemezov.

The talks in Caracas focused on energy, manufacturing, shipbuilding, education, science, car production and culture, the agency reported.

Sechin called Venezuela ''one of Russia's most reliable partners'' in the military sphere and said both sides were developing military-technical cooperation.

Yesterday's visit by the Russian delegation coincided with a six-hour patrol flight by Russian strategic bombers along the South American coast .

The two Tu-160 Blackjack bombers arrived in Venezuela last week and are due to return to Russia tomorrow.

The controversial flights, close to US borders, have been criticized by the Bush administration with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accusing Russia of playing a ''dangerous game.'' Two Russian Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers have landed at an airfield near Caracas, to prepare for their long flight home, Russian Air Force spokesman Lt Col Vladimir Drik told reporters in Moscow today.

Chavez is due to hold talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other leaders during a two-day visit to Beijing on September 23-25.

UNI XC ARB KP1803

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