Chavez threatens expulsion

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the U.S. ambassador was “provoking the Venezuelan people” and threatened Sunday to expel the American diplomat, whose convoy was chased by pro-government protesters on motorcycles.

Chavez condemned the crowd of protesters for pelting U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield’s car with eggs and tomatoes, saying his government “rejects any kind of aggression.”

But he suggested Brownfield, who was returning from a visit to a ballpark in Caracas’ poor Coche neighborhood, a Chavez stronghold, sought a confrontation by failing to advise authorities adequately of his travel plans and venturing into a place where his presence was unwelcome.

“I’m going to throw you out of Venezuela if you continue provoking the Venezuelan people,” Chavez said in a nationally televised speech addressed to Brownfield.

Chavez’s incendiary comments came after Washington warned of “severe diplomatic consequence” if a similar incident repeats itself.

“If the Washington government takes some measure against Venezuela motivated by provocations, you will be responsible, you will have to leave here, sir. I will declare you persona non grata in Venezuela,” Chavez responded Sunday in the address to Brownfield.

Chavez accused Washington of seeking to escalate tensions and threatening Venezuela.

“With your imprudence and provocation, you could one of these days cause a grave incident because (you walk) around with people who are armed, with security forces,” Chavez said.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Salome Hernandez said the embassy refused to respond to “hypothetical” scenarios but added, “the ambassador will continue to travel and we will not be intimidated.”

Relations between the United States and Venezuela, the world’s fifth largest oil producer, have deteriorated sharply in recent months.

Chavez has threatened repeatedly to halt oil exports to the United States, and in February, Washington expelled a Venezuelan diplomat in response to Chavez’s expulsion of a U.S. embassy official for alleged spying.

In the incident Friday, Chavez said Brownfield failed to advise the local mayor’s office or the foreign ministry of his travel plans. Hernandez said the embassy is not required to advise those institutions but that it takes adequate precautions by regularly coordinating with law enforcement authorities for such events.

The response to his visit Friday was the third time in three weeks that Brownfield has been met by protests. Earlier, demonstrators burned tires and torched an American flag.

The State Department said the incident Friday “clearly was condoned by the local government,” with local officials handing out snacks to perpetrators at the stadium. U.S. officials accused police of doing nothing, saying a single city police car stayed well behind the convoy while motorcyclists pounded and kicked the ambassador’s car.

The Caracas mayor’s office denied involvement,

Chavez says the United States of plotting against him, an accusation American officials deny.

Washington, however, has raised concern about the health of democracy under Chavez and has accused him of destabilizing Latin America. Chavez has responded by saying his government is democratic and it is the U.S. that is a destabilizing force.

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