August 24, 2005

U.S. evangelist backs off Chavez assassination call

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Conservative U.S. evangelist Pat
Robertson, who called for the assassination of Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez, said on Wednesday he was misinterpreted
and that the leftist leader could be removed through

"I said our special forces could take him out. Take him out
could be a number of things including kidnapping," Robertson
said of Venezuela's leader on his "The 700 Club" television

"There are a number of ways of taking out a dictator from
power besides killing him. I was misinterpreted," added

Robertson, the founder of the Christian Coalition and a
leader of the Christian right that has provided strong support
for President George W. Bush, said on Monday of Chavez's fears
of U.S. assassination: "If he thinks we're trying to
assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and
do it."

"We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time
has come that we exercise that ability."

Venezuela, which has had strained relations with the United
States since accusing Washington of backing a failed 2002 coup
against Chavez, was not satisfied with U.S. officials'
dismissal of Robertson's remarks and said it wanted the White
House to take legal action.

"This public call to assassinate a head of state,
considered a crime by all modern legislation, is prosecutable
by its very nature. That is what the civilized world is
expecting of U.S. authorities," the Venezuelan government said
on Wednesday.

Chavez has often accused the United States of plotting his
overthrow or assassination, but Washington has denied
involvement in the 2002 coup attempt. Alongside Cuban President
Fidel Castro in Havana on Sunday, Chavez scoffed at the idea
that he and Castro were destabilizing troublemakers as seen by
the Bush administration. Venezuela is the world's fifth largest
oil exporter and a major supplier to the United States.

The White House remained silent despite calls by Venezuela
and religious leaders including the Rev. Jesse Jackson for Bush
to repudiate Robertson's remarks. However, Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld on Tuesday said political assassination was
against the law and was not U.S. policy.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called
Robertson's remarks "inappropriate" and said any ideas of
hostile action against Chavez or Venezuela were "without fact
and baseless."

Venezuelan officials said Robertson's remarks, while those
of a private citizen, took on more significance given his ties
to President Bush's Christian-right supporters.

"Mr Robertson has been one of this president's staunchest
allies. His statement demands the strongest condemnation by the
White House," Venezuela's ambassador to the United States
Bernardo Alvarez said.

Chavez was elected in 1998, survived a referendum on his
rule last year, and is seen to have a strong chance of winning
re-election in 2006.