Assassinate Chavez, Pat Robertson tells a stunned America

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The Independent US

Mr Robertson, who heads the Christian Coalition and has close links to the White House, said the US should kill President Hugo Chavez because he wanted to turn his Catholic country into "the launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism".

"We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability," Mr Robertson said on the Monday night broadcast of his religious programme The 700 Club. "We don't need another $200bn war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."

Venezuela, whose relationship with the US has become increasingly difficult in recent years, described Mr Robertson's comments as a form of terrorism and called on the White House to condemn them.

Speaking in Caracas, Vice-President Jose Vicente Rangel said: "This is a huge hypocrisy to maintain an anti-terrorist line and at the same time have such terrorist statements as these made by Christian preacher Pat Robertson coming from the same country. The ball is in the US court now, after this criminal statement by a citizen of that country."

Mr Chavez, a failed revolutionary who later won power at the ballot boxes, has long been at odds with the US. In 2002 the Bush administration offered support to Mr Chavez's opponents who briefly overthrew him in a coup. The US also provided money to groups which last year organised a recall vote in a failed effort to dislodge the President.

Mr Chavez, who beat the recall vote as the result of his support among Venezuela's poor, has often accused the US of trying to assassinate him - echoing the claims of one of his closest allies, Fidel Castro, who he was yesterday visiting in Cuba. The US has admitted that during the Sixties it initiated several operations to kill the Cuban leader.

The relationship between the US and Venezuela is made more complicated by the Latin American country's role as the world's fifth largest exporter of oil. It is wealth from these sales that has enabled Mr Chavez to invest heavily in social programmes and in establishing schools and clinics in the poorer barrios.

The organisation headed by Mr Robertson, a former presidential candidate, claims to have more than two millions members. During the 2000 presidential primaries the support of the Christian Coalition was vital in helping Mr Bush win the Republican nomination in South Carolina, where he was strongly challenged by Senator John McCain.

A State Department spokesman described Mr Robertson's comments as "inappropriate" and said they were from a private citizen and did not represent the government's position.

A spokeswoman for Mr Robertson said that the evangelist had no further comment at this point.

Robertson on...

FEMINISM

"It encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."

9/11

"If they look over the course of 100 years, I think the gradual erosion of the consensus that's held our country together is probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings."

ISLAM

"It's clear from the teachings of the Koran and also from the history of Islam that it's anything but peaceful."

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