CARACAS Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez urged respect for the legal rights of "Carlos the Jackal" during his trial in France and saluted him as a "worthy" fighter for revolutionary causes.
Born in Venezuela to a communist father, Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, 62, went on trial this week for deadly Paris bombings he is accused of carrying out at the height of his "anti-imperialist" activity in the 1970s and 1980s.
The socialist Chavez has run into controversy in the past by praising a man regarded as a terrorist killer by Western governments, though imbued with revolutionary allure for a small coterie of admirers.
"Back then he was a worthy promoter of the greatest struggles that came out of here for the causes and justice of the (world's) peoples," Chavez said, referring to Ramirez's departure from Venezuela to support Palestinian militants.
"I say this to the whole world without any anxiety," Chavez added in comments carried by state media on Tuesday.
Ramirez faces a second life sentence in prison if convicted for four bomb attacks in 1982 and 1983 that killed 11 people and wounded nearly 200. He was sentenced to life in 1997 by a French court for killing two police officers and an informant.
"He's my compatriot, right?" Chavez said during a meeting with the Brazilian foreign minister at the presidential palace in Caracas.
"Independently of who Ilich Ramirez is, he is Venezuelan, so we as a state have obligations to any Venezuelan in any part of the world undergoing any difficulty or process.
"We can't let any Venezuelan, accused of whatever, be mistreated anywhere. We must ensure his rights are respected."
Chavez, who projects himself as a leader of a global "anti-imperialist" movement, has courted controversy in the past by supporting global strongmen such as Libya's late Muammar Gaddafi and Iraq's Saddam Hussein.
He even once suggested one of Africa's bloodiest despots, Idi Amin, may have been unfairly portrayed and could have been a "great nationalist, a patriot."
Chavez, who in the past has praised Ramirez as a "revolutionary fighter" and criticized his jailing as unfair, said French agents violated international law when they captured him in Sudan in 1994 after years on the run.
"He was kidnapped. France did not ask for his extradition as they should have done," Chavez said. "They sedated him, put him in a bag and took him off in a plane."
He declined to comment on specifics of the accusations against Ramirez and said his foreign minister was following the case closely.
Chavez said he knew his words may draw criticism, but did not care what hypocritical, bellicose Western powers thought.
"I'm exposing myself to whatever they may say from any global center of power, where ethics and morals are handled with hypocrisy by those, France included, who talk of protecting innocent people while bombing and massacring them as in Libya," Chavez said.
"They talk of 50,000 innocents dead in Libya to kill Gaddafi, as they lynched and murdered him. In Washington, they partied over the murder of an injured man," he added of his former friend and ally Gaddafi's final moments.
(Editing by Xavier Briand)