November 11, 2007
President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela received an angry rebuke from the King of Spain when the monarch pointedly told him to "shut up" at a summit of leaders from Latin America, Spain and Portugal.
Mr Chavez, the outspoken Left-wing leader who called President George W. Bush the "devil" on the floor of the United Nations last year, triggered the exchange by lashing out at the former Spanish prime minister José Maria Aznar."
Mr Aznar, a conservative who backed the US-led war in Iraq, "is a fascist", Mr Chavez said in a speech to leaders at the Ibero-American summit in Santiago, Chile. The Venezuelan leader added: "Fascists are not human. A snake is more human."
Spain's current Socialist prime minister, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, responded during his own allotted time by urging Mr Chavez to be more diplomatic in his words and to respect other leaders despite political differences
"Former prime minister Aznar was democratically elected by the Spanish people and was a legitimate representative of the Spanish people," said Mr Zapatero, eliciting applause from the gathered heads of state.
Mr Chavez repeatedly tried to interrupt, but his microphone was off. King Juan Carlos, seated next to Mr Zapatero, angrily turned to Mr Chavez and said: "Why don't you shut up?"
The Venezuelan leader did not immediately respond, but later used time ceded to him by his close ally, President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, to answer Mr Zapatero's remarks.
"I do not offend by telling the truth," he said. "The Venezuelan government reserves the right to respond to any aggression, anywhere, in any space and in any manner."
The diplomatic spat came on a day when hundreds of protesters marched in Venezuela's capital to call for a "no" vote in a referendum next month that could pave the way for Mr Chavez to stay in power indefinitely.
The procession in Caracas, organised by various opposition groups, took place amid high tensions following violence in recent days between protesters and pro-Chavez supporters.
Four students suffered gunshot wounds on Wednesday when an armed group stormed the university campus in Caracas as demonstrators were returning from a protest.
On Friday, six people - four of them policemen - were wounded by shots in the western town of Merida during another student demonstration.
University students are in the vanguard of the opposition against the December 2 referendum called by Mr Chavez that proposes 69 constitutional amendments.
The Venezuelan leader, popular among his country's many poor, is seeking changes to extend his term of office, and allow him to seek re-election as often as he wants.
Yesterday's march saw a two-mile procession through the streets of the capital led by a lorry blaring out slogans denouncing the referendum and the recent violence.
Mr Chavez has struck back at the students in particular, calling them "spoiled little brats", and on Friday accusing them of waging a "fascist assault" orchestrated by the United States - a country he has persistently lambasted.