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Bush should be given gold medal for hypocrisy: Hugo

The comments came as US President George Bush embarked on a tour of Latin America.

world Updated: Mar 09, 2007 14:12 IST

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Thursday George W Bush should be given "the gold medal for hypocrisy" as the US president embarked on a tour of Latin America aimed at making new friends.

Leftist Chavez, Washington's leading foe in the region, is on a one-day visit to Buenos Aires, where he will lead thousands of leftists on Friday in a soccer stadium rally that will coincide with Bush's arrival in neighboring Uruguay.

"You've got to give the US president the gold medal for hypocrisy, because he's said now he's worried about poverty in Latin America," Chavez told reporters soon after landing in Buenos Aires.

"Now he's discovering ... after so many years that there's poverty in Latin America, precisely when the US empire is the principal culprit," said Chavez, who routinely insults Bush.

While Argentine President Nestor Kirchner steers clear of Chavez's anti-Bush rhetoric, both leaders question Washington-backed free-market policies and share a vision of greater regional cooperation between leftist governments.

Venezuela has bought billions of dollars in Argentine debt and recently bailed out an ailing Argentine dairy cooperative to keep it from being bought by a private investment fund.

They have also signed an energy cooperation agreement.

Bush's five-nation tour, which began in Brazil on Thursday, is seen by many as an attempt to counter the growing influence of Chavez in a region where anti-American sentiment is strong, especially among the legions of poor.

In an interview with Colombian television on the eve of his departure from Washington Bush trumpeted US humanitarian projects in the region.

On Saturday, Chavez is scheduled to visit disaster areas in Bolivia, where he has pledged millions of dollars in aid after extensive flooding and where President Evo Morales is one of his closest ideological allies in Latin America.

Chavez said he would discuss with Kirchner forming a body made up of natural gas-exporting countries in South America.

"It's about Argentina (and) Venezuela -- and I'm sure Bolivia -- forming an energy organization based on natural gas," he said.