Bono drawn into dispute over computer game

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The Independent US

The Irish rock star Bono has been unwittingly caught up in a row over a computer game that features a fictionalised invasion of Venezuela to counter a "power-hungry tyrant" who has seized control of the country and its oil.

The computer game is played from the perspective of a mercenary who is dispatched to Venezuela with the guidance: "If you see it you can buy it, steal it, or blow the living crap out of it." Called Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, it is made byPandemic Studios, based in Los Angeles, in which a private equity firm established by the U2 lead singer has invested $300m (£165m). It is one of the world's largest independent games producers.

In Venezuela, political supporters of President Hugo Chavez have reacted angrily tonews of the game - reportedly due for release next year - and called for it to be banned. Gabriela Ramirez, a member of the National Assembly, told the Associated Press that it incorrectly portrayed Mr Chavez as a tyrant and Venezuela as a country on the verge of chaos.

"It sends a message to Americans, 'You have a danger next door, here in Latin America, and action must be taken'. It's a justification for an imperialist aggression."

In the US, activists are dismayed that a man who has campaigned on Aids and poverty should be linked, however unwittingly, to a product that makes entertainment from the destruction of an independent country.

Shirley Pate, of the Venezuelan Solidarity Network in Washington, said: "[The game shows] an attack on the entire city of Caracas, not just the government buildings but also the residential areas."

Gunnar Gundersen, a member of the Bolivarian Circle movement in Oregon, said: "We have family and friends in Venezuela and many of us have walked and stayed in the places featured in the war game. To us, these are not just clever abstract pictures."

Pandemic Studios has a reputation for the realism of its games. It has also produced Full Spectrum Warrior, a game that was initially made for the US Army to train soldiers in urban warfare techniques.

No one from Pandemic Studios or Elevation Investment was available for comment yesterday. A spokeswoman for Bono was unable to comment.

However, on an online games forum, Scott Walker, the chief designer for the game, recently wrote: "[This] is a work of fictional entertainment. The story, characters and setting of the game should in no way be construed as negative towards the current Venezuelan government or the people of the country.

"One of the key reasons Venezuela was chosen for the setting of Mercenaries 2 is that is a fascinating and colourful country, full of wonderful architecture, geography and culture."

Earlier this year, Mr Chavez started recruiting and training a people's militia to help lead a "war of resistance" against what he claims was the threat of an invasion by the US. The US has repeatedly denied the allegation.

Mr Chavez, who was first elected in 1998, survived a short-lived coup in 2002. The US has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to his political opponents, including those who were involved in the coup.

His presidency has seen improvements in literacy and health care and a reduction in poverty, but he has also been accused of increasingly tightening his control of state institutions and introducing measures that could stifle the largely opposition-owned media.

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