Hugo Chávez Calls Syria's Leader 'Humanist,' Rails Against U.S.

Hugo Chávez is standing up for another leader with a battered reputation, amidst a country in turmoil.

The Venezuelan President expressed support for Syria's president on Saturday, calling him a "humanist" and a "brother" facing a wave of violent protests backed by the United States and its allies.

Chávez's support for President Bashar Assad follows his defense of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who is fighting rebels backed by international airstrikes.

Venezuela's socialist leader accused Washington of fomenting the protests in Syria as a pretext for Libya-style airstrikes.

"Now some supposed political protest movements have begun (in Syria), a few deaths ... and now they are accusing the president of killing his people and later the Yankees will come to bomb the people to save them," Chávez said in a televised speech.

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The anti-government protests erupted nationwide in Syria on Friday, and follow unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya in what has been called the Arab Spring.

Chávez has developed close ties to Gadhafi and Assad over the years.

"How cynical is the new format the empire has invented, to generate violent conflict, generate blood in a country, to later bombard it, intervene and take over its natural resources and convert it into a colony," he said. Chávez often refers to the United States as the empire.

Chávez said he spoke to Assad late Friday and referred to him as our "brother."

Assad, who opponents have called a repressive autocrat, "is a humanist, doctor, educated in London, in no way an extremist; he is a man of great human sensitivity," said Chávez. "We salute him from here."

Syria's administration has promised increased freedoms for discontented citizens and increased pay and benefits for state workers -- a familiar package of incentives offered by other nervous Arab regimes in recent weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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