Hugo Chavez: Bush is the devil’

BY KIM GAMEL

The Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took his verbal battle with the United States to the floor of the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, calling President Bush “the devil.”

The impassioned speech by the leftist leader came a day after Bush and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sparred over Tehran’s disputed nuclear program but avoided an encounter.

“The devil came here yesterday,” Chavez said, referring to Bush’s address on Tuesday and making the sign of the cross. “He came here talking as if he were the owner of the world.”

The leftist leader, who has joined Iran and Cuba in opposing U.S. influence, accused Washington of “domination, exploitation and pillage of peoples of the world.”

“We appeal to the people of the United States and the world to halt this threat, which is like a sword hanging over our head,” he said.

The main U.S. seat in the assembly hall was empty as Chavez spoke.

Ambassador John Bolton said Chavez had the right to express his opinion, adding it was “too bad the people of Venezuela don’t have free speech.”

“I’m just not going to comment on this because his remarks just don’t warrant a response,” Bolton said. “Serious people can listen to what he had to say and if they do they will reject it.”

Chavez drew tentative giggles at times from the audience, but also some applause when he called Bush the devil.

Chavez spoke on the second day of the annual ministerial meetings, which were overshadowed by an ambitious agenda of sideline talks.

The Mideast peace process also was in the spotlight, with ministers from the Quartet that drafted the stalled road map – the U.S., U.N., European Union and Russia – planning to meet. The Security Council was scheduled to hold a ministerial meeting Thursday that Arab leaders hope will help revive the Mideast peace process.