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Ahmadinejad's new best friend: Hugo Chávez?

Chávez has announced his support for the Iranian president's claim of election victory. The two leaders have developed close ties based on mutual animosity to the US.

By Tyler BridgesMcClatchy Newspapers / June 18, 2009

Caracas, Venezuela

President Hugo Chávez is standing by his man in the Middle East, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even as hundreds of thousands of ordinary Iranians took to the streets Thursday for the sixth straight day to protest his claim to a landslide reelection.

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Mr. Chávez belongs to a small circle of political oddfellows who support Mr. Ahmadinejad, including the King of Swaziland; Hamas, the militant Palestinian organization; and Hezbollah, the radical Lebanese group.

The Venezuelan government, "in the name of the people," hailed the "extraordinary democratic development" that resulted in Ahmadinejad's victory Friday, according to a foreign ministry statement.

"The Bolivarian government of Venezuela expresses its firm rejection of the ferocious and unfounded campaign to discredit, from abroad, that has been unleashed against Iran, with the objective of muddying the political climate of this brother country," said the statement issued late Tuesday. "We demand the immediate end to maneuvers to intimidate and destabilize the Islamic Revolution."

Chávez's support for Iran's beleaguered leader is no surprise. The two leaders have developed warm ties in recent years, based on their mutual antipathy for the US. Other than the fact they're both major oil producers and oppose US foreign policy, the countries have little in common.

Iran now manufactures cars, tractors and bicycles in Venezuela, and Chávez made his sixth trip to Iran in April.

"Iran and Venezuela ties have introduced a common revolutionary front ... in the world," Ahmadinejad said then. He vowed that the two countries would "continue to stand by each other."

The two leaders inaugurated a binational bank on that trip and said they were providing $200 million to finance projects in both countries.

Chávez also has paved the way for the Iranian leader to seek ties with other South American nations, to the alarm of Washington, which considers Iran a state sponsor of terrorism.