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Venezuela's Chavez Meets With Syria's Assad in Caracas

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has met with visiting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is touring Latin America in an effort to strengthen economic ties in the region.

On Saturday, Mr. Chavez presented his guest with a gold-plated replica of a sword that once belonged to South American independence icon Simon Bolivar.

Mr. Chavez also was quoted as saying Mr. Assad's visit was part of a "strategic project of cooperation" to build the "Caracas-Damascus axis" linking the two countries.

Mr. Chavez has built close ties with Syria, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries, while severing ties with Israel. He also is an outspoken critic of the United States and used the visit with Mr. Assad to lash out at the U.S.

This is the Syrian leader's first visit to Venezuela. It follows a trip last year to Damascus by President Chavez, who signed a series of agreements with Mr. Assad.

Mr. Assad's tour of Latin America, after Venezuela, will take him to Brazil and Argentina. All three countries have large communities of Syrian émigrés. The Syrian leader is also scheduled to visit Cuba.

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