Venezuela's Chavez says Obama has "stench" of Bush

CAMPO CARABOBO, Venezuela Sat Jan 17, 2009 4:44pm EST

CAMPO CARABOBO, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Saturday Barack Obama had the "stench" of his predecessor as U.S. president and was at risk of being killed if he tries to change the American "empire."

Most world leaders expect a new era of U.S. foreign relations when Obama, a Democrat, is sworn in as president on Tuesday after Republican George W. Bush's eight years in the White House.

But Chavez said frayed ties with Washington were unlikely to improve despite the departure of Bush, who the Venezuelan leader has often called the "devil."

"I hope I am wrong, but I believe Obama brings the same stench, to not say another word," Chavez said at a political rally on a historic Venezuelan battlefield.

"If Obama as president of the United States does not obey the orders of the empire, they will kill him, like they killed Kennedy, like they killed Martin Luther King, or Lincoln, who freed the blacks and paid with his life."

Obama, who will be the first black president in U.S. history, was given Secret Service protection on the campaign trail earlier than is customary for candidates and security for Tuesday's inauguration is extremely tight.

Venezuela is a leading supplier of oil to the United States and the two countries once enjoyed close ties.

Relations deteriorated after Chavez first won election in 1998 as he took on U.S. companies as part of his socialist agenda of nationalization of various industries and accused Washington of backing a brief coup against him.

Last year, he expelled the U.S. ambassador from Venezuela.

Chavez's foreign policy is based on countering U.S. global influence and promoting countries like Russia and China as world leaders. He has close ties to U.S. foes Cuba and Iran.

Until recently, Chavez had said he hoped relations with Washington could improve. But in the last few days, he has picked up on comments he attributes to Obama accusing him of obstructing progress in Latin America and exporting terrorism.

(Reporting by Jorge Silva; Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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