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Chavez says US won't give Morales a honeymoon

By Staff
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ASUNCION, Paraguay, Apr 20 (Reuters) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused his arch-enemy Washington of trying to destabilise Bolivia's leftist government, which took office three months ago.

Chavez -- a close ally of Cuba President Fidel Castro and Bolivian President Evo Morales -- regularly attacks the Bush administration while Washington says he is using Venezuela's bountiful oil wealth to meddle in neighboring countries.

''The empire gave Cuba time while it weighed up Fidel a bit and later attacked... the same as it did in Venezuela. I believe that with Evo and Bolivia, the empire isn't going to give them a honeymoon,'' Chavez said in a speech in Asuncion early today after meeting with other South American presidents on Wednesday to discuss a regional energy project.

He later travelled to Brazil.

Apparently referring to the bombing of two hotels in the Bolivian city La Paz last month, the Venezuelan leader said ''the attack against Evo and Bolivia started quickly.'' ''Bombs started to explode in Bolivia. We've seen strikes or strike threats ... and the press attacks by Bolivia's oligarchy is ruthless every day,'' he added.

The US Embassy in Asuncion declined to comment on Chavez's remarks.

A US citizen and his Uruguayan partner have been charged and are in custody in connection with the hotel bombings, which killed two Bolivians. Morales had suggested the US government was linked to them, but has since ruled out any connection.

A string of labour strikes has hit Bolivia in recent weeks, raising fears of deeper social protest in the country -- South America's poorest. Another strike is planned tomorrow. The strikes by a range of workers have been staged to press demands such as the nationalisation of a leading airline, the scrapping of tax plans and pay increases.

Chavez has repeatedly accused Washington of trying to topple his own government. Diplomatic relations between the United States and Venezuela, the world's No 5 oil exporter, have been strained since Chavez accused the United States of plotting a coup d'etat that briefly ousted him in 2002.

Morales won office on pledges to nationalize Bolivia's natural gas industry and defend growers of coca -- the plant used to make cocaine.

REUTERS KD KP2328

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