Robertson se disculpa

(CNN) — Conservative religious broadcaster Pat Robertson apologized Wednesday for calling for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during Monday’s broadcast of his «700 Club» program.
«Is it right to call for assassination? No, and I apologize for that statement,» he said in a written statement.
Earlier, Robertson said that his remarks about Chavez were taken out of context and that he never called for the killing of the Latin American leader.
«I didn’t say ‘assassination.’ I said our special forces should ‘take him out.’ And ‘take him out’ can be a number of things, including kidnapping; there are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power besides killing him. I was misinterpreted by the AP [Associated Press], but that happens all the time,» Robertson said on «The 700 Club.» (Watch video)
The controversy began Monday when Robertson called Chavez «a terrific danger» bent on exporting Communism and Islamic extremism across the Americas. (Full story)
«If he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it,» said Robertson Monday. «It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war.» (Watch Robertson’s comments)
«We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability,» he said. «We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one strong-arm dictator. It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.»
Venezuelan officials reacted angrily to the broadcaster’s comments, while U.S. officials dismissed the remarks.
Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel accused Robertson of inciting violence and challenged the White House to take action against him.
«What is the U.S. government going to do about this criminal statement made by one of its citizens?» he asked.
In Havana, where he had met with Cuban President Fidel Castro to discuss ties between the two countries, Chavez told reporters he had never heard of Robertson.
Asked about the broadcaster’s call for his assassination, Chavez said, «It doesn’t matter to me.»
«I don’t know who that person is,» he said. «As far as his opinion of me goes, I couldn’t care less.»
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Tuesday that Robertson has the right of any private citizen to say whatever he wants but added that the broadcaster’s remarks «do not represent the views of the United States.»
«His comments are inappropriate,» he said. «Allegations that we are planning to take hostile action against the Venezuelan government are completely baseless and without fact.»
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also dismissed Robertson’s comments Tuesday, saying «our department doesn’t do that kind of thing.»
But Venezuela’s ambassador to the United States, Bernardo Alvarez, said Robertson was «no ordinary private citizen» and demanded the White House strongly condemn the remarks.
Alvarez said the Christian Coalition, which Robertson started but no longer leads, claims some 2 million members and helped jump-start President Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign after his New Hampshire primary loss to Sen. John McCain.
«Robertson has been one of this president’s staunchest allies,» he said.
«The United States might not permit its citizens to use its territory and airwaves to incite terrorists abroad and the murder of a democratically elected president,» Alvarez said. «Venezuela demands that the U.S. abide by international and domestic law and respect its country and our president.»
Venezuela’s vice president said the U.S. response «challenges the antiterrorist ideology of the American government.»
Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who ran against Robertson for the GOP presidential nomination in 1988, called the comments «stupid» and «ludicrous» and suggested the broadcaster apologize «very quickly.»
Bush administration critical of Chavez
Chavez has built ties to Cuba since he was elected in 1998, becoming a close friend of Castro’s and selling oil to the communist island at preferential rates.
The colorful former Venezuelan army officer has the widespread support of his country’s poor.
His opponents, largely drawn from the country’s middle and upper classes, accuse him of undermining democratic institutions.
Chavez was re-elected under a new constitution in 2000. In 2004, he won a recall referendum with the support of 58 percent of voters.
He has become an increasingly outspoken critic of the United States, which he accuses of having been behind a 2002 coup attempt that forced him from office for two days.
The Bush administration denied involvement but refused to condemn the attempted coup.
Assassinations of world leaders have been forbidden since President Ford signed an executive order in 1976. The rule came after congressional hearings in the 1970s documented CIA attempts to kill Castro and U.S. interference in the politics of other Latin American countries.
This month, Chavez warned that U.S. troops would be «soundly defeated» if Washington were to invade Venezuela. (Full story)
But Tuesday, he offered to sell Venezuelan fuel directly to «people who are most in need within the United States» — bypassing American oil companies to bring cheaper gas prices.
Administration officials have been sharply critical of Venezuela, the fourth-largest supplier of oil to the United States.
During her confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice singled out Venezuela as a «negative force» in the region, and Rumsfeld has suggested Chavez’s government has interfered with the internal affairs of other countries in the region.
Last week, Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked Rumsfeld to tone down his anti-Chavez rhetoric, warning that the United States needed Venezuelan help to battle the drug trade.
Venezuela has accused agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration of spying on Chavez’s government. The Bush administration denies those allegations as well.
Controversial statements are not new to the 75-year-old Robertson.
He has suggested in the past that a meteor could strike Florida because of unofficial «Gay Days» at Disney World and that feminism caused women to kill their children, practice witchcraft and become lesbians.
CNN’s Lucia Newman contributed to this report.

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