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Chavez accuses US of trying to topple Syria leader

By Jorge Rueda

Associated Press

Published: Friday, April 6 2012 8:37 p.m. MDT

In this photo released by Miraflores Press Office, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez delivers a speech as he attends a mass in Barinas, Venezuela, Thursday, April 5, 2012. Chavez, who attended the mass accompanied by relatives Thursday after returning from his latest round of radiation therapy treatment in Cuba, vowed to overcome cancer and to run for re-election in October.

Miraflores Press Office, AP Photo/Francisco Batista

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CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Friday accused the U.S. government and its allies of provoking violence in Syria in an effort to topple its government.

Chavez said he spoke by phone earlier in the day with his ally Syrian President Bashar Assad, who told him the security situation in his country is improving and he hopes the violence will ease soon.

"He told me there have been more than 2,000 soldier martyrs and a larger number of innocent people who have died as a result of the terrorist plan to remove him from power," Chavez said in a phone call broadcast live on Venezuela's state television.

Chavez relayed the account from Assad after thousands of Syrian refugees streamed across the border into Turkey following days of shelling and sniper attacks. The United Nations has said that more than 9,000 people have died in the violence.

While the U.S. and European governments have criticized the Syrian government for violently cracking down on opponents, Chavez has been a vocal defender of Assad and has also sent shipments of Venezuelan diesel fuel to aid Syria.

"I had been trying to talk with him for several days," Chavez said of Assad, adding that the Syrian leader gave him a detailed rundown of the situation there during a half-hour call.

"Bashar told me that the political plans continue forward and that the security situation is improving, and he hopes and he's sure — and let's hope it's the case — that with less bloodshed in the coming days, soon that brother Arab nation will be totally under control and will return to normality," Chavez said.

Chavez, who has long had an antagonistic relationship with the U.S. government, has repeatedly accused Washington of trying to stir up violence in Syria similar to the fighting in Libya that led to the ouster and killing of his ally Moammar Gadhafi.

"The pressure by the Yankee empire and its allies continues, trying to use arms to topple President Bashar Assad, using terrorism," Chavez said, adding that such actions were responsible for the violence in Syria.

Assad last week accepted a U.N.-brokered cease-fire deadline that calls for his forces to pull out of towns and cities by Tuesday and for everyone to lay down their arms by Thursday morning.

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