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World leaders salute Chavez
Ideological allies in Latin America have lined up to salute the late firebrand as Russia, China and Iran paid tributes to a key regional partner,...
Ideological allies in Latin America have lined up to salute the late firebrand as Russia, China and Iran paid tributes to a key regional partner, while the United States has expressed hope for improved ties with the oil-rich VenezuelaHavana (AFP): Condolences poured in on Wednesday from world leaders who had found common cause with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez in his 14-year campaign to galvanize the Latin American left and defy US "imperialism." Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh paid rich tributes to Chavez saying he was a "charismatic leader who leaves behind a legacy of striving for social justice." Singh said President Chavez had made a tremendous contribution to the development of closer relations among the countries of the developing world. "We are grateful for his personal efforts in strengthening relations between India and Venezuela and will continue to work towards even closer relations with the friendly people of Venezuela," he said. "Venezuela has lost a charismatic and immensely popular leader in President Chavez who leaves behind an enduring legacy of striving for social justice," he said. Ideological allies in Latin America lined up to salute the late firebrand as Russia, China and Iran paid tribute to a key regional partner, while the United States expressed hope for improved ties with oil-rich Venezuela. Cuba hailed Chavez as a "true son" to the communist nation's retired 86-year-old revolutionary icon Fidel Castro and declared three days of mourning in honor of its closest regional ally and main economic benefactor. Russian President Vladimir Putin called Chavez an "uncommon and strong man who looked into the future and always set the highest target for himself" and thanked him for laying the "solid basis" for Russia-Venezuela relations. Russia enjoys close military ties with Venezuela, which also represents one of the main oversees investment targets of the giant state oil company Rosneft. China, which also cultivated strong economic ties with Chavez's Venezuela, called him a "great leader" and a "great friend of the Chinese people." Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Chavez had fallen as a "martyr" to a "suspect illness," apparently referring to claims by Chavez's successor Nicolas Maduro that the cancer that killed him was part of a conspiracy. "Venezuela lost its brave, strong son and the world lost a wise and revolutionary leader," Ahmadinejad added. China described the late Chavez as a "great friend of the Chinese people," promising to maintain ties with the petroleum-rich South American country. "President Chavez was a great leader of Venezuela as well as a great friend of the Chinese people and has made an important contribution to friendly and cooperative relations between China and Venezuela," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. President Hu Jintao and soon-to-be-installed leader Xi Jinping had sent personal messages of condolence to Venezuela's Vice President Nicolas Maduro following the 58-year-old leader's death from cancer, she added. "Venezuela is an important country in the region and also a good friend of China," she said at a regular briefing in Beijing. Washington's response to the death of Chavez, who had repeatedly thumbed his nose at the United States and referred to president George W Bush as a "donkey" and the "devil," was more circumspect. "At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez's passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government," President Barack Obama said in a short statement. "As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights." UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon paid tribute to Chavez's work on behalf of his country's poor and his support of Colombia's peace process, saying he "spoke to the challenges and aspirations of the most vulnerable Venezuelans." "To the people of Venezuela we say their mourning is the mourning of all countries that are fighting to reclaim their place in the world economy," African National Congress spokesman Jackson Mthembu said in a statement. Seen as a hero by some for his anti-US rhetoric and gifts of cut-rate oil, others considered him a bully. A teary-eyed Bolivian President Evo Morales, one of Chavez's closest allies and most loyal disciples, declared that "Chavez is more alive than ever." "Chavez will continue to be an inspiration for all peoples who fight for their liberation," Morales said in a televised speech. "Chavez will always be present in all the regions of the world and all social sectors. Hugo Chavez will always be with us, accompanying us." In Cuba, President Raul Castro's government declared two days of national mourning and ordered the flag to fly at half-staff. "It is with deep and excruciating sorrow that our people and the revolutionary government have learned of President Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias' decease," it said in a statement read on the nightly state TV newscast. "The Cuban people view him as one of their most outstanding sons." Some of the estimated 189,219 Venezuelan immigrants living in the United States - about half of them in Florida - turned out cheering and waving their country's flag and expressed hope that change would come to their homeland. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, another Chavez ally, declared three days of mourning nationwide. She and President Jose Mujica of neighboring Uruguay also prepared to travel to Venezuela for the funeral. In Nicaragua, another nation that broadly benefited from Venezuelan cut-rate oil, Rosario Murillo, the wife and spokeswoman of President Daniel Ortega, said Chavez is "one of the dead who never die." "We are all Chavez," she said in televised comments. But Raul Martinez, a leader of the leftist, pro-government Sandinista Youth group, acknowledged in an interview with a local television station that "it is a hard blow." British Foreign Secretary William Hague said "Chavez left a lasting impression on the country and more widely" during his 14 years as president. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said: "At this key juncture, I hope the people of Venezuela can now build for themselves a better, brighter future based on the principles of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights." A wistful Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador and another of Chavez's closest allies, predicted Chavez would have a lasting influence. "We have lost a revolutionary, but millions of us remain inspired." For good or ill, Chavez's influence was felt across Latin America. Alfonso Astorga, 65, a math teacher, was holding back tears as he walked into a store in a wealthy neighborhood of Santiago, Chile. "He was an example of courage, struggle and passion for Latin America's integration," Astorga said. "The world loses a great man."