February 1, 2004

Don King praises Venezuela's Chavez

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) --Boxing promoter Don King praised President Hugo
Chavez and his "revolution" during the Venezuelan leader's weekly radio and television
program on Sunday.

"To see what is happening here makes me feel good all over," said King of
Chavez's government and his efforts to bring social justice to Venezuela's poor

"You are a president of the people, for the people and by the people and your
magic lies in your people ties. You are the one concerned about the poor,"
King said during Chavez's "Hello President" program.

Chavez, a leftist former paratrooper who is facing a possible recall referendum
this year, welcomed King as "a fighter of many years" and "a man of justice."

After a brief conversation in which the two recalled past boxing matches,
Chavez and King hugged and called each other "brothers" in English.

King was in Venezuela for an anti-drug boxing tournament in Caracas. Boxing
is one of the most popular sports in this South American country of 24 million.

Two weeks ago, actor Danny Glover also joined Chavez during the show and
applauded his programs for the poor.

Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Sugar Ray Leonard were once clients of
King, who has previously visited Venezuela to promote local bouts and boxers
during his decades-long career.

On his program, Chavez also accused his opponents of committing widespread
fraud in collecting signatures for the petition calling for a presidential recall

The Venezuelan president spoke while dozens of government opponents rallied
in Caracas demanding a fair decision by the National Elections Council
regarding the petition for the presidential recall.

Chavez accused the opposition of trying to ruin his image abroad by portraying
him as an autocrat and saying that the government was pressuring the elections
council to reject the recall petition.

The council is slated to decide whether the petition has enough valid signatures
to authorize the recall. Any decision could set off more unrest in a country that
has seen a failed coup in 2002 and a crippling two-month strike a year ago.

Chavez is praised by his followers as a champion of the poor, but his
opponents argue that Venezuelans have only become poorer since the former
lieutenant colonel took office in 1999.

Adversaries accuse Chavez of becoming increasingly authoritarian and riding
roughshod over the country's democratic institutions.

Chavez counters that his "coup-plotting, fascist" foes only want to regain
privileges they lost with his rise to power five years ago.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press