CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Sunday his government would take legal action against Pat Robertson and potentially seek his extradition after the U.S. evangelist called for Washington to assassinate the South American leader.
Robertson, who later apologized for the remark, said he was expressing his frustration with Chavez’s constant accusations against the administration of President George W. Bush.
“I announce that my government is going to take legal action in the United States … to call for the assassination of a head of state is an act of terrorism.” Chavez said in a televised speech.
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The fiery left-wing critic of Bush’s foreign policy who frequently charges the U.S. government is plotting to kill him, called Robertson “crazy” and a “public menace.”
He said Venezuela could seek Robertson’s extradition under international treaties and take its claim to the United Nations if the Bush administration did not act.
Robertson, the founder of the Christian Coalition and a leader of the Christian right that has backed Bush, said on Monday that if Chavez “thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it.”
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said political assassination was against the law and was not U.S. policy.
Relations between Chavez and the United States, the top buyer of the OPEC nation’s oil, have deteriorated since Chavez survived a brief 2002 coup he says was backed by U.S. authorities. Washington says it is not plotting to kill Chavez and denies involvement in the coup.
Chavez said on Friday Bush would be to blame if anything happened to him. In the past, he has said Venezuela, the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter, would cut sales to the United States if he was assassinated.
A close ally of communist Cuba, Chavez presents his self-proclaimed revolution as an alternative to U.S. policies in the region.
Washington says Chavez is a negative influence who uses oil profits to fund anti-democratic groups in South America while becoming more authoritarian at home.
U.S. civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, visiting Venezuela on Sunday, called Robertson’s remarks “immoral” and rejected U.S. government claims against Chavez.