The Houston Chronicle

Venezuela’s Chavez: Syria’s leader a ‘humanist’
The Houston Chronicle

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez expressed support for Syria’s president on Saturday, calling him a « humanist » and a « brother » facing a wave of violent protests backed by the United States and its allies.

Chavez’s support for President Bashar Assad follows his defense of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who is fighting rebels backed by international airstrikes. Venezuela’s socialist leader accused Washington of fomenting the protests in Syria as a pretext for Libya-style airstrikes.

« Now some supposed political protest movements have begun (in Syria), a few deaths … and now they are accusing the president of killing his people and later the Yankees will come to bomb the people to save them, » Chavez said in a televised speech.

The anti-government protests erupted nationwide in Syria on Friday, and follow unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya in what has been called the Arab Spring.

Chavez has developed close ties to Gadhafi and Assad over the years. Chavez said he spoke to Assad late Friday and referred him as our « brother. » Assad, who opponents have called a repressive autocrat, « is a humanist, doctor, educated in London, in no way an extremist; he is a man of great human sensitivity, » said Chavez. « We salute him from here. »