Hand back Falklands, Venezuela tells Blair

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The Independent US

Downing Street today refused to be drawn into a fresh war of words with Venezuela's president after he called on Britain to hand over the Falklands to Argentina.

Hugo Chavez said the islands belonged to Argentina and demanded Prime Minister Tony Blair give them back.

Mr Blair infuriated Mr Chavez earlier this week when he said he should respect the rules of the international community.

The Prime Minister also said he would prefer to see Venezuela's ally Cuba function as a true democracy.

Mr Chavez responded to Mr Blair's comments by branding him "a pawn of imperialism" and "the main ally of Hitler" - a reference to US President George Bush.

In his latest attack on Mr Blair today, Mr Chavez said Britain had violated the sovereignty of various nations - citing the case of the Falklands.

"We have to remember the Falklands, how they were taken away from the Argentinians," he said.

Speaking in the western Venezuelan city of Maracaibo, he added: "Those islands are Argentina's. Return them, Mr Blair. Those islands are Argentina's."

Downing Street would not rise to the attack.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "I don't think it is to anybody's benefit to get into a war of words on this. The position of the Falkland Islands has been stated many times. That remains the position.

"I am not sure comments like this are helpful and I think it is better to draw a veil and move on."

Britain recaptured the Falklands after Argentinian troops invaded in 1982. Hundreds were killed on both sides in the three-month conflict.

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