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Chavez Plans Deeper Ties With Mali


Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has paid a one-day visit to Mali in an effort to strengthen bi-lateral relations.

Stronger diplomatic ties and energy cooperation have been on top of the agenda during the meeting between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré.

Upon landing in Mali's capital, Bamako, Mr. Chavez told Malian radio that Venezuela and Mali shared the same destiny and he was in the country to build what he called, "a grand union."

Venezuelan officials told journalists that Venezuela will support Mali in its efforts to access its five oil basins, and that air traffic will be established between the two countries, while visa restrictions will be dropped.

Mr. Chavez previously said he hoped the Venezuelan state oil company would help Mali explore and produce oil.

Despite being Africa's third-biggest gold producer, Mali is one of the continent's poorest countries, according to the U.N. Development Program.

Mr. Chavez is unpopular with President Bush, who this week said he saw the Venezuelan leader as a threat to democracy.

But Mr. Chavez was invited as a guest of honor to last month's African Union summit, where he said he hoped to develop closer ties with African states.

After Mali, Mr. Chavez traveled to Benin.