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Chavez defends nuclear energy right, denies ETA link

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez hailed its alliance with Russia and said his country had a right to develop nuclear energy as he started a visit to Moscow on Thursday.

Chavez is planning to buy tanks in Russia, after committing to $5 billion in earlier arms deals, and discuss construction of a nuclear plant which will use Russian technology.

“We are going to develop nuclear power and nothing will stop us,” he told Russian and Venezuelan students at the Library of Foreign Literature in Moscow.

Chavez said he was going to sign “important deals” in the oil and gas sector without elaborating, and also agree on the supplies of Venezuelan coffee and chocolate to Russia.

He denied that two members of the ETA militant group were trained in Venezuela and called Spain’s charges “part of the aggression by the (U.S.) empire.”

Earlier on Thursday, he said in televised comments in Moscow that Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA had agreed the sale to Russian buyers of the four Ruhr Oel refineries that it owns jointly with BP in Germany.

BP was also negotiating to sell up to $1 billion worth of its Venezuelan assets to Russian TNK-BP to make up for the losses it incurred due to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a source close to the deal said last month.

Chavez gave an emotional 45-minute speech in which he attacked the United States. “We are so far away from God and so close to the damned empire,” he said.

Chavez will meet President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Friday. He will then continue his ten-day trip visiting Ukraine and Belarus, which get shipments of Venezuelan oil, and U.S. foes Syria, Lebanon and Iran in the Middle East.

Writing by Alexei Anishchuk