Chavez threatens US envoy

Last week, ambassador William Brownfield’s car was pelted with eggs, onions and tomatoes in a neighbourhood south of Caracas as he arrived at a sports centre to present a donation to a youth baseball team.

Video footage aired by Globovision television showed protesters shouting: “Get out, gringo!” “Get out, coup-backer!” “Get out, rubbish!”

The US said they called Caracas government officials to protest the incident last week.

But in his weekly televised broadcast, President Chavez said Mr Brownfield should “start packing” before he kicks him out.

“If you continue making provocations, you’re going to have to pack your bags, mister, because I’m going to throw you out of here, Ambassador (William) Brownfield,” said Mr Chavez.

Mr Chavez said Mr Brownfield was partially responsible for the incident as he did not advise local authorities or the foreign ministry of his travel plans, as well as travelling with armed guards.

On Saturday, acting foreign minister Alcides Rondon warned demonstrators against such displays: “The Venezuelan government and people repudiate any act of protest that goes beyond the limits of respect.”

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told AFP that Nicholas Burns, the US undersecretary of state for political affairs, called Caracas last week to protest the incident.

“This action was an outrageous violation of the Vienna Convention,” Mr McCormack quoted Mr Burns, the department’s number-three official, as having told the Venezuelan government.

“Nick told the Venezuelan ambassador that we hold the government of Venezuela responsible for the ambassador’s security, and if such an incident happens again, there will be severe diplomatic consequences between the two countries,” he said.

The threat is just the latest salvo in a simmering row between the leftist Venezuelan leader and the administration of US President George W Bush.

Washington claims Mr Chavez’s government restricts the freedom of the press and harasses the opposition, while the populist Venezuelan president frequently criticises his American counterpart over the Iraq war, and has openly called Mr Bush a “coward” and a “murderer.”

Venezuela, the only Latin American member of the Organisation of the Oil Producing Countries (OPEC) is one of the most important sources of imported US oil.

Mr Chavez blames the Bush administration for backing an aborted 2002 coup, in which he was removed from power for less than 48 hours, and claims the US has plans to remove him from power in a bid to get to Venezuela’s oil reserves.

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