Chavez discusses mediation with Gadhafi

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez has spoken with Moammar Gadhafi about creating a bloc of friendly countries to help mediate a resolution to Libya’s crisis, Venezuela’s information minister said Wednesday.

Venezuela’s president, who has forged close ties with Gadhafi and refused to condemn him for his crackdown on protesters, spoke with the Libyan leader on Tuesday, Information Minister Andres Izarra said through Twitter.

Venezuela has already reached out to its allies in Latin America and beyond to discuss the creation of a friendly bloc of nations — dubbed the Committee of Peace — to mediate the crisis.

Venezuelan officials did not say how Gadhafi had responded to the proposal.

Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said the creation of such a bloc could help resolve the conflict in Libya, adding that his government felt diplomacy — rather than military threats — should be used to end the violence sweeping the North African nation.

Maduro criticized U.S. and European Union officials for adopting policies aimed at isolating Gadhafi and raising the possibility of providing military support to Libyans rebelling against the embattled leader.

Such policies “point at giving the empire authorization for an invasion against the Libyan people,” Maduro said, according to the state-run AVN news agency.

Chavez — who shares a mutual opposition to Washington with Gadhafi — has said he won’t cave into international pressure to condemn Gadhafi and he has warned that Washington is preparing a military invasion of Libya.

“Hopefully in the coming days we could create a committee of friendly countries that go to talk with the government of Col. Gadhafi as well as the opposition that his taken up arms in some regions,” Maduro said.

In a speech to chanting and clapping supporters in Tripoli on Wednesday, Gadhafi lashed out against Europe and the United States for their pressure on him to step down, warning that “thousands of Libyans will die” if U.S. and NATO forces intervene in the conflict.

Chavez has built close ties with Libya and visited the Arab country several times.

Gadhafi awarded Chavez in 2004 with the Libyan leader’s annual human rights prize for battling “the effects of imperialism and the enemies of freedom inside and outside” Venezuela.

During a visit last year to Venezuela, Gadhafi pitched his tent outside a hotel during a summit of African and Latin American leaders. Gadhafi also received a special gift from Chavez: a replica of the sword that once belonged to Venezuela’s 19th-century independence hero, Simon Bolivar.

Venezuela’s opposition has strongly criticized Chavez for his close relationship to Gadhafi.

Earlier this week, a coalition of opposition parties warned that Chavez’s failure to take a stand against Gadhafi’s violent crackdown is smearing Venezuela’s reputation abroad. Opposition politician Gustavo Azocar demanded that Chavez ask Gadhafi to return the replica of Bolivar’s sword, saying the government should explain why it “gave the sword of the Liberator, Simon Bolivar, to an assassin like Gadhafi.”

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