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Chavez eyes Russian fighters after Brazil deal out

Written by: Staff

CARACAS, Venezuela, Apr 4: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he could buy Russian combat fighters after charging Washington had torpedoed a deal to buy aircraft from Brazilian aerospace manufacturer Embraer.

The Venezuelan leader was speaking at a demonstration of the first three Russian-made helicopters his government purchased as part of a series of arms deals to upgrade the armed forces of the world's No 5 oil exporter.

The US government, which accuses Chavez of working to undermine regional democracy, has opposed Venezuela's recent arms purchases and moved to block deals for equipment containing US-made military technology.

Chavez counters that US officials plan to invade Venezuela to seize its oil reserves. He has sought arms deals with Spain, Brazil and Russia and ordered his military and civilian reserves to train for ''asymmetric'' or resistance warfare.

''We wanted to buy some Brazilian training aircraft for our pilots ... the US has stopped that operation,'' Chavez told an audience at the helicopter event yesterday. ''It's a pity for Brazil because it was a good deal ... we are ready to buy Russian fighters to have them here defending the skies.'' Venezuela had planed to buy Supertucano trainers from Embraer, and Brazil last year said it would support the deal.

Arms transactions involving US-made technology must be approved by Washington.

US officials worry about Chavez's ties to Cuba and accuse the self-proclaimed socialist revolutionary of using his oil wealth to spread an anti-democratic message. Supporters applaud his initiatives for the poor, but critics say he has become authoritarian since his 1998 election.

Authorities said they expect to take delivery of a total of 15 MI-type military helicopters this year as part of an agreement to purchase more aircraft from Russia and 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles to replace Venezuela's aging FAL rifles.

''These helicopters are ideal for the war of resistance,'' Chavez said after watching troops parachute out of the aircraft. ''The anti-imperialist war... a war which hopefully will never come, but we have to be ready.''


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