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Venezuela offers Aristide refuge

03/16/04 "Reuters" - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has offered refuge to ousted Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide and said he still recognised him as the legitimate president of the Caribbean country. 

"We don't recognize the new government of Haiti," Mr Chavez said in a speech in eastern Venezuela.

"The president of Haiti is called Jean-Bertrand Aristide. ... Venezuela's doors are open to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide."

His offer appeared to be a general, open-ended invitation to the ousted Haitian president. 

Venezuelan officials said there were no plans yet for a visit by Mr Aristide. 

The left-wing Venezuelan leader repeated accusations that, in his view, Mr Aristide was "kidnapped by US troops ... by the troops of the country that preaches democracy to the world." 

Mr Chavez spoke a day after Mr Aristide flew to Jamaica, returning to the Caribbean just two weeks after he left Haiti for exile in Africa on February 29 in the face of an armed revolt and US pressure to quit. 

While in exile in the Central African Republic, Mr Aristide insisted he was still the president of Haiti and said he was abducted by US forces. 

Washington dismissed the claim. 

Mr Chavez, who is resisting a bid by political opponents to hold a referendum on his rule, has himself accused the US Government of trying to overthrow him. 

US officials deny this and say the Venezuelan leader is trying to distract attention from his domestic problems. 

Although Mr Chavez said he did not recognize Haiti's new government, led by Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, he said oil-rich Venezuela was offering humanitarian aid to Haiti, including supplies of fuel oil.

2004 Reuters

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