January 24, 2006

CORRECTED: Venezuela’s Chavez hosts World Social Forum

Please read in third paragraph ... Porto Alegre ... instead
of ... Port Alegre

A corrected story follows.

By Patrick Markey

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of
international activists gathered in Caracas on Tuesday for the
World Social Forum to protest U.S. imperialism and debate
topics from fair trade to indigenous rights.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a self-styled socialist
revolutionary, has become a regional standard-bearer for
left-wing, anti-U.S. movements since allying himself with Cuba
to become one of the U.S. government's most vocal opponents.

The sixth world forum, an event that began in Porto Alegre
in Brazil, has registered more than 67,000 participants and
starts with a march against imperialism and war that will
likely focus on U.S. President George W. Bush and the war in

"This is a process that can bring change for everyone,"
said Colombian Lucy Martinez, who belongs to a solidarity group
with Cuba. "It's great that it is here in Venezuela because
Chavez, like Fidel Castro, is an example for everyone."

Ecuadorean Indians in traditional shawls sat among piles of
luggage while Brazilian students checked out street stalls
offering Che Guevara T-shirts and bracelets, watches and
posters printed with Chavez's image.

Lines of participants waiting to register snaked inside the
Teresa Carreno Theater complex and nearby officials set up a
campsite in a public park.

Many traveled by road from neighboring Brazil and Colombia.
At least four Brazilian students were killed and 11 injured
when their bus crashed in Peru en route to Caracas.

The forum began as an alternative to the gathering of world
leaders in Davos, Switzerland, but it is now a broad movement
where activists campaign for everything from fair trade and gay
rights to debt forgiveness and anti-globalization.

Two parallel events have been organized in Mali and

The forum took place as Bolivia's Evo Morales became the
latest left-wing president to assume power in South America on
a wave of regional rejection of U.S.-backed free-market
economic policies.

The event bills itself as independent. But much attention
will likely focus on Chavez, a former soldier who has branded
Bush "Mr. Danger" and who says he is bringing socialism to the
world's No. 5 oil exporter to better the lives of the poor.

"With Chavez taking some incentives for the poor we wanted
to know more," said Benjamin Inuca, president of an Ecuadorean
indigenous association taking part in the forum.

Chavez, who often claims inspiration from South American
liberation hero Simon Bolivar, says he has sought out trade and
energy deals with South American neighbors to counter
Washington's damaging influence in the region.

U.S. officials dismiss Chavez's accusations they are
plotting his overthrow. They counter that the tough-talking,
retired army paratrooper is working with Cuba as a
destabilizing force in other South American countries.