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Venezuela's Chavez to Sign Billion-Dollar Arms Deal With Russia Thursday


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he will sign a billion-dollar arms deal in Moscow Thursday to acquire jet fighters and produce combat rifles in his homeland.

Mr. Chavez spoke Wednesday in Russia, just hours after Moscow dismissed objections to the deal from the United States.

The billion dollar deal will buy at least 24 Russian jet fighter planes to replace Venezuela's U.S. F-16 warplanes. It also provides Venezuela with helicopters, as well as agreements for plants in Venezuela to manufacture Kalashnikov rifles and ammunition.

In remarks reported by Russia's Interfax news agency, the leftist Chavez thanked Russia for helping break what he called a U.S. blockade of Venezuela.

Tuesday, the U.S. State Department said the Bush administration was concerned about the deal, in part because the arms purchase exceeds Venezuela's military needs.

Mr. Chavez arrived in Russia Tuesday from neighboring Belarus, where he met with authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko - a leader commonly referred to as Europe's last dictator. He is also set to visit Qatar, Iran and Mali.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.
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