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Tuesday, 17 April, 2001, 03:29 GMT 04:29 UK
Venezuela backs China in plane row
Jiang Zemin and Hugo Chavez
Chinese President Jiang Zemin is on a three-day visit
By Adam Easton in Caracas

Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez has backed China in its dispute with the United States over the collision of the US spy plane with a Chinese fighter jet.

And he said his country would not support a US-sponsored move to condemn China's human rights record.

The United Nations Human Rights Commission is expected to vote later this week on a resolution condemning human rights abuses in both China and Cuba.

President Chavez made his comments during the three day visit of Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who is on the last leg of his Latin American tour.

The Venezuelan president said he strongly supported China's right to defend its sovereignty, following a ceremony in which President Jiang laid a wreath at the tomb of South American liberation hero Simon Bolivar.

Letter of condolence

Mr Chavez, who proudly confessed to being an admirer of Mao Zedong, said he would also write a letter of condolence to the family of the Chinese pilot who died in the collision earlier this month.

Mr Chavez has already irritated the US on several occasions in the past, most notably when he became the first elected leader to visit Saddam Hussein last year.

When a recent US State Department report criticised Venezuela's human rights record, he went on national television to read out figures compiled by Amnesty International listing human rights abuses in the US.

Venezuela is the last stop on President Jiang's six-nation Latin American tour.

The two men will sign several energy agreements before President Jiang leaves on Tuesday, including one to build a multi-million dollar oil plant in Venezuela to provide fuel for electricity generation in China.

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