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Chavez to Latin America: Withdraw Your Money From U.S.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez urged his Latin American allies on Saturday to begin withdrawing billions of dollars in international reserves from U.S. banks, warning of a looming U.S. economic crisis.

Chavez made the suggestion as he hosted a summit aimed at boosting Latin American integration and rolling back U.S. influence.

"We should start to bring our reserves here," Chavez said. "Why does that money have to be in the north? ... You can't put all your eggs in one basket."

Chavez noted that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Colombia in recent days, saying "that has to do with this summit."

"The empire doesn't accept alternatives," Chavez told the gathering, attended by the presidents of Bolivia and Nicaragua and Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage.

Chavez warned that U.S. "imperialism is entering into a crisis that can affect all of us" and said Latin America "will save itself alone."

To help pool resources within the region, Chavez and other leaders were setting up a new development bank at the summit of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Nations of Our America, or ALBA.

The left-leaning regional trade alliance first proposed by Chavez is intended to offer an alternative, socialist path to integration while snubbing U.S.-backed free-trade deals.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega joined Chavez in his criticism of U.S.-style capitalism, saying "the dictatorship of global capitalism ... has lost control." Three days earlier, Ortega had shouted "Long live the U.S. government" as he inaugurated an American-financed section of highway in his country.

On Saturday, Chavez welcomed the Caribbean island of Dominica into ALBA, joining Nicaragua, Bolivia and Cuba. Attending as observers were the prime ministers of Antigua and Barbuda and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, along with officials from Ecuador, Honduras, Haiti and St. Kitts and Nevis.

The ALBA Bank is to be started with $1 billion to US$1.5 billion of capital, Venezuelan Finance Minister Rafael Isea said Friday, according to the state-run Bolivarian News Agency.