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Hugo Chavez Refuses To Condemn Muammar Gaddafi, Warns That U.S. Is Preparing Invasion Of Libya

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CHAVEZ
(AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos) | AP

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Monday that he won't condemn Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and he warned the United States is preparing an invasion of the North African country.

"A campaign of lies is being spun together regarding Libya," Chavez said during a televised speech. "I'm not going to condemn him. I'd be a coward to condemn someone who has been my friend."

The U.S. government is behind the campaign, he said.

Chavez noted that numerous countries have condemned Gaddafi for cracking down on Libyans who have risen up against him.

"Maybe they have information that we don't have," he said.

Chavez slammed the United States for moving naval and air forces closer to Libya amid active international discussions about imposing a no-fly zone over the country, and he warned that U.S. officials are preparing to invade Libya.

Chavez and Gaddafi, united in their mutual antagonism toward Washington, have forged close ties.

Venezuela's opposition has strongly criticized Chavez for his close relationship to Gaddafi. Earlier on Monday, a coalition of opposition parties warned that Chavez's failure to take a stand against Gaddafi's violence crackdown is smearing Venezuela's reputation.

"By distancing himself from the numerous nations that condemn the criminal actions of the Libyan leader, Chavez makes our country out to be his defender and irresponsibly puts us alongside governments rejected by the international community," the coalition said in a statement.

Opposition politician Gustavo Azocar demanded that Chavez ask Gaddafi to return a replica of the sword that once belonged to 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar.

Azocar said in an e-mail sent to The Associated Press on Monday that Venezuela's foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, "should explain why the government gave the sword of the Liberator, Simon Bolivar, to an assassin like Gaddafi."

Chavez gave the sword to Gaddafi last year. The self-proclaimed socialist has scoffed at suggestions by his adversaries that protests similar to those sweeping the Middle East could occur in Venezuela.

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Associated Press writer Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas contributed to this report.