Chavez shows off fighter jets, defying US
8.20am Thursday July 6, 2006
CARACAS, Venezuela - President Hugo Chavez marked Venezuela's independence day by showing off Russian fighter jets his government is planning to buy and new helicopters and rifles it purchased, after Washington blocked US arms sales to Caracas.
Two Sukhoi SU-30MK fighters sent from Russia roared overhead on Wednesday local time as troops, tanks and vehicles filed past Chavez and his counterparts from Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay who were visiting for a summit of the Mercosur trade bloc.
Relations between Washington and Caracas are tense after the United States banned arms sales, citing Chavez's close ties to Iran and Cuba. US officials say the populist Chavez is destabilizing the region, a charge he rejects as propaganda.
Chavez, a former army officer, is seeking to buy 24 of the high-performance Sukhoi fighters to replace his government's F-16 jets in a deal analysts estimate would cost nearly US$1 billion ($1.6bn). He has already bought Kalashnikov rifles and attack helicopters from Russia.
"The US government has sabotaged us, failing to meet contracts and agreements, delaying or not sending parts for US-made aircraft," Chavez said. "See now how our air force is recovering operations, especially with these Sukhoi, the most powerful combat jets in the world."
Joining Chavez at the ceremony was Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Russian who designed the original weapon to bear his name, the AK-47. Venezuela has purchased 100,000 new AK-103 rifles to replace its military's aging FAL weapons.
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