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World News

Iran, Nicaragua leaders tour slums, share goals

MANAGUA (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a U.S. foe, toured shantytowns with Nicaragua’s leftist President Daniel Ortega on Sunday and said the two countries share common interests and enemies.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L) and Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega greet supporters from Ortega's Sandinista party during a meeting in a suburb of Managua January 14, 2007. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas

On his second trip to Latin America in four months, Ahmadinejad called Ortega, a former Cold War opponent of Washington and part of a growing wave of leftist presidents in the region, a symbol of justice in Nicaragua.

“We have to give each other a hand,” Ahmadinejad told reporters. “We have common interests, common enemies and common goals.”

While distrusted by Washington, oil-exporting Iran’s Ahmadinejad is welcomed in many Latin American countries where leftist leaders are trying to reduce U.S. influence.

Ahmadinejad, an ex-soldier, and Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla, both came to power on populist platforms.

Ortega drove Ahmadinejad on a tour of Managua’s poorest slums, past houses made of plastic sheets and Sandinista supporters waving banners and holding up photographs of the Iranian leader.

Ortega, a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, began his term last week after winning November’s election on promises to fight hunger and corruption.

Ahmadinejad is also close to Chavez, a fierce critic of President Bush, and visited him on Saturday before going to Nicaragua later in the evening.

TAKING SIDES

Ortega said he would sign agreements with Ahmadinejad to help reduce poverty in Nicaragua, the Western Hemisphere’s second-poorest country after Haiti. He gave no details.

“In our Iranian brothers we have a people, a government, a president willing to join with the Nicaraguan people in the great battle against poverty,” Ortega said.

Washington accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism and seeking to build atomic bombs, charges Tehran denies.

Chavez has backed Ahmadinejad in his battle with the international community over Iran’s nuclear program, which last month led to limited U.N. sanctions.

As president of Nicaragua in the 1980s, Ortega and his Sandinista movement confiscated businesses and farms after toppling a U.S.-backed dictator.

Those policies, combined with a U.S. economic blockade and a war against U.S.-backed Contra rebels, plunged the coffee-producing country into chaos.

Since then, Ortega has said he learned his lesson and has dropped Marxism for a center-left program.

Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Samuel Santos told reporters both countries would reopen their embassies after withdrawing their diplomats in 1990, when Ortega left office.

Following his stop in Nicaragua, Ahmadinejad will visit Ecuador, where the presidential race was recently won by Rafael Correa, another critic of U.S. policies.

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