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US Threatens Retaliation After Attack on Envoy in Venezuela

The United States warned Venezuela Monday, it will retaliate diplomatically, if there is a repeat of what U.S. officials say was a government-organized mob attack on the American ambassador last Friday in Caracas. The State Department says the incident was an act of "thuggery."

The State Department has served notice on the Venezuelan government that it can expect severe restrictions on the movements of its ambassador in Washington, if there is any further incident like last Friday's attack on U.S. envoy William Brownfield.

The American ambassador's car was pelted with eggs and tomatoes, and pounded and chased by pro-government demonstrators after an event in an impoverished Caracas neighborhood, at which the envoy had presented baseball equipment to a youth group.

Ambassador Brownfield has been a frequent target of criticism from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, with whom the United States has had a strained relationship for several years.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Venezuelan officials knew in advance of the ambassador's Friday plans, and had provided sandwiches and drinks to members of the crowd, who later took part in the attack.

McCormack called it a "thuggish attempt to intimidate" the U.S. envoy, and that the United States will not sit idly by, if it happens again. "This was simply outrageous. This is the third time this has happened in the past several weeks, and the fourth time overall. And, frankly, the Venezuelan government must live up to its obligations under the Vienna Convention to help provide protection for our diplomats. We do that here. And if we see an incident like this again, I think there are going to be serious diplomatic consequences between our two countries, and I think that the Venezuelan ambassador might find his ability to move around the United States severely restricted," he said.

Under questioning, McCormack said the restrictions contemplated for Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez would be more severe than those that currently apply to the head of Cuba's diplomatic interests section in Washington.

The Cuban envoy is barred from traveling beyond the Washington Beltway, the highway that circles the U.S. capital.

In the wake of Friday's incident, Venezuelan President Chavez has criticized the attack, saying his government rejects "any kind of aggression."

But Mr. Chavez also warned that the U.S. ambassador, whom he has accused of trying to foment opposition to his government, would be expelled, if he continued what he described as provocative activity.

The Venezuelan president also leveled a number of personal insults at President Bush, remarks spokesman McCormack said he would not dignify with a response.

McCormack reiterated U.S. concerns about actions the Chavez government has taken that he said "undermine the health" of Venezuelan democracy.

But he said the Bush administration remains ready to have a good relationship with Venezuela, a major U.S. oil supplier and trading partner.