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Chavez says US warships threaten Venezuela, Cuba

By Staff
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CARACAS, Venezuela, Apr 19 (Reuters) President Hugo Chavez, who accuses Washington of planning to invade Venezuela, said recent deployment of US warships in the Caribbean Sea threatened his country and its ally Cuba.

Four US warships, including an aircraft carrier, and 6,500 sailors, are in a two-month deployment in the Caribbean Sea dubbed ''Partnership of the Americas'' by the US Navy.

''They are doing maneuvers right here,'' Chavez told a student meeting in the country's west yesterday. ''This is a threat, not just against us, against Venezuela, against Cuba.'' Chavez has repeatedly accused the United States of trying to oust him. US officials say the self-styled socialist revolutionary and friend of Cuban President Fidel Castro threatens regional stability.

Chavez, who has created a civilian reserve to resist the assault he says Washington is planning, has threatened to repel US forces with arrows coated with poison.

The United States, a leading buyer of oil from Venezuela, the world's No. 5 exporter, has dismissed his invasion talk as a ridiculous invention aimed at stirring up his supporters.

At least one warship has come as close to Venezuela as the Dutch island of Aruba, about 15 miles off its coast.

The Florida-based US Southern Command has said the operations, which include visits to countries including Venezuela's neighboring US ally Colombia, focus on threats such as ''narco-terrorism and human-trafficking.'' REUTERS PG PM0448

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