Chavez accuses U.S. of coup role as ties restored

Just days after reestablishing diplomatic ties with Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez is accusing the U.S. of staging a coup in Honduras as President Obama expressed concern over President Manuel Zelaya's arrest.

Zelaya was arrested and forced into exile on Sunday after pressing ahead with a constitutional referendum that would have allowed for his re-election. The referendum had been judged illegal by Honduras' highest court and was opposed widely through political and military circles. Zelaya had fired the chief of the country's armed forces, Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, when he refused to help with the referendum.

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Soldiers took away Zelaya, still in his pajamas, from the presidential palace Sunday morning and put him on a plane to San Jose, Costa Rica, where he planned to seek political asylum.

Chavez, who succeeded on his second try to push a similar referendum that allows his indefinite re-election, lashed out at the U.S. and Obama in Caracas, alleging "the Yankee empire had a lot to do" with the "coup d'etat" against his fellow leftist leader.

"I call on the president of the United States to issue a statement as we have, rejecting this affront, which not only goes against Honduras but against all the peoples of Latin America," Chavez said.

Chavez also accused the upper classes in Honduras of staging the upheaval, saying they "have turned Honduras into a 'banana republic', into a political, military and terror base for the North American empire."

Chavez commonly refers to the United States as the "empire."

Obama did respond in a statement Sunday, though in a much more measured tone than his Venezuelan counterpart.

"I am deeply concerned by reports coming out of Honduras regarding the detention and expulsion of President Mel Zelaya," Obama said. "As the Organization of American States did on Friday, I call on all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned Zelaya's arrest in statement Sunday, as well.

"The action taken against Honduran President Mel Zelaya violates the precepts of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and thus should be condemned by all," Clinton said. "We call on all parties in Honduras to respect the constitutional order and the rule of law, to reaffirm their democratic vocation, and to commit themselves to resolve political disputes peacefully and through dialogue. Honduras must embrace the very principles of democracy we reaffirmed at the OAS meeting it hosted less than one month ago."

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On Friday, Venezuela's ambassador returned to Washington after being recalled to Caracas in September. Chavez expelled U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy, who was set to arrive in Caracas this weekend, at the same time.

Upon touching down in D.C., Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez lauded the restoration of envoys as a "first step in normalizing relations."

On Saturday, Chavez said that Venezuela is continuing its arms buildup -- which includes $4.4 billion worth of contracts to purchase jets and helicopters from Russia over the past four years -- because of a perceived military threat from the U.S.

Chavez has also spent recent days backing up his friend President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, claiming that the CIA is behind the unrest that has rocked Iran since the country's disputed June 12 elections.

Obama made diplomatic outreach to U.S. foes under the Bush administration a cornerstone of his campaign, and shook hands and chatted with an eager Chavez at the Summit of the Americas in April.