Saddam In The Driver's Seat -- Detail

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Friday, 11 August, 2000, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
Chavez backs Iraqi sanctions protest
Hugo Chavez-Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein took President Chavez on a drive
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has offered support for Iraqi efforts to end the United Nations sanctions against the country.

An aide said that President Chavez made the offer during his controversial day-long visit to Iraq on Thursday.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Gulf
Mr Chavez (right) has been building links to the Arab world
"President Chavez affirmed the Venezuelan position supporting any accord against any kind of boycott or sanctions that are applied against Iraq or any other country in the world," Deputy Foreign Minister Jorge Valero said.

The Venezuelan president was the first head of state to visit Iraq in the decade since the Gulf War.

The visit was criticised by the United States and the UK, who said it gave undue credibility to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"What can I do if they get upset?" Mr Chavez said. "We have dignity and Venezuela is a sovereign country."

Opec visit

President Chavez on a week-long trip to the member nations of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec), ahead of an Opec summit in the Venezuelan capital Caracas on 27 September.

Iraq is an Opec member and many see Mr Chavez's visit as an effort to consolidate support within the organisation.

Mr Chavez said he held fruitful discussions with the Iraqi leader.

"I found him an educated man who understands everything linked to Opec," he said.

The fact that Mr Chavez's visit came in the face of US opposition ensured that he received a very warm welcome.

The Iraqi president even took his Venezuelan counterpart on a drive of Baghdad.

"Imagine, he [Saddam Hussein] took me on a ride of Baghdad while he was driving the car," Mr Chavez said.