Friday, September 22, 2006

NEW YORK — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took his Bush-bashing to Harlem yesterday and earned a stiff rebuke from the New York district’s congressman, Rep. Charles B. Rangel, who is no fan of President Bush.

“You don’t come into my country, you don’t come into my congressional district and criticize my president,” Mr. Rangel, a Democrat, told stunned reporters on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Rangel, who is one of Mr. Bush’s harshest critics, said no foreign official should assume that “Americans do not feel offended when you offend our chief of state.”

At Harlem’s Mount Olivet Baptist Church yesterday, Mr. Chavez referred to the insults that he delivered at the United Nations’ General Assembly a day earlier.

“They told me that I should be careful after I called [Mr. Bush] the devil — and I think he is the devil — because he might kill me” Mr. Chavez told an overflow crowd.

He also called Mr. Bush “an alcoholic and a very sick man.”

In his remarks to the annual U.N. General Assembly debate Wednesday, the Venezuelan president first called Mr. Bush the devil and said “it still smells of sulfur” at the podium, where Mr. Bush had spoken a day earlier.

Mr. Chavez repeated his devil remarks for reporters later Wednesday and also called Mr. Bush “the genocide president.”

He spoke at the Harlem church yesterday for nearly two hours, in which he mocked Mr. Bush by mimicking a cowboy’s gun-slinging stance.

Mr. Chavez’s performance in New York this week also offended several prominent Democrats on Capitol Hill, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

“Hugo Chavez fancies himself a modern-day Simon Bolivar, but all he is an everyday thug,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

She added that Mr. Chavez had “demeaned himself, and he demeaned Venezuela.”

Rep. Chaka Fattah, Pennsylvania Democrat, said, “His personal attacks and ridicule directed at the president of the United States are unacceptable.”

Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, defended Mr. Chavez in an interview with Radio Iowa.

Though the remarks were “incendiary,” Mr. Harkin said, “I can understand the frustration, and the anger of certain people around the world because of George Bush’s policies.”

Bush administration officials have refused to be drawn into a name-calling exchange with Mr. Chavez.

“I think it’s not becoming for a head of state,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, when asked about Mr. Chavez’s speech at the General Assembly.

Mr. Chavez went to Harlem yesterday to announce a doubling of the amount of discounted heating oil that his country will distribute to poor Americans this winter.

He said that Citgo, the U.S. arm of Venezuela’s state-owned oil monopoly, will distribute 100 million gallons to people in 18 states.

The program began last year to aid Hurricane Katrina victims.

The Venezuelan president repeated his threats to halt oil sales to the United States if Washington attacked Venezuela or Iran.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, asked about Mr. Chavez’s support at a press conference yesterday, spoke in only general terms.

“We do not seek to represent a threat to any country,” Mr. Ahmadinejad told reporters.

The Iranian president recently visited Venezuela and joined Mr. Chavez at the Non-Aligned Movement summit last week in Havana.

At his press conference yesterday, Mr. Ahmadinejad repeated that Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

“I don’t see why so many people are so sensitive about this ‘enrichment’ word,” he said. “We have said under fair conditions and just conditions, we will negotiate about it.”

Iran is in the early stages of making enriched uranium, which can be used for atomic bombs or nuclear power plants.

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