August 24, 2005

US evangelist apologizes for Chavez remarks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Conservative U.S. evangelist Pat
Robertson apologized on Wednesday for calling for the
assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, saying he
spoke in frustration earlier in the week.

"Is it right to call for assassination? No, and I apologize
for that statement. I spoke in frustration that we should
accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him."

The leftist Chavez, one of President George W. Bush's
harshest critics, has often accused the United States of
plotting his overthrow or assassination. U.S. officials said
this week the idea of hostile action against him was "without
fact and baseless."

Robertson, the founder of the Christian Coalition and a
leader of the Christian right that has provided strong support
for Bush, said on Monday of Chavez's fears: "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," he said on his "The
700 Club" television program.

His earlier remarks, said the leader of the world's fifth
largest oil exporter was a "terrific danger" to the United
States and Chavez intended to become "the launching pad for
communist infiltration and Muslim extremism."

Robertson said that while he was criticized by U.S.
political and religious leaders, he found the attention he
wanted for what he said was "a growing problem which has
largely been ignored." Earlier in the day he said his remarks
had been misinterpreted and "take him out" could refer to


Venezuela has had strained relations with the United States
since accusing Washington of backing a failed 2002 coup against
Chavez. Washington has denied involvement. The Venezuelan
foreign ministry said it was not satisfied with U.S. officials'
dismissal of Robertson's remarks and 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.

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.