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Chavez hailed in Venice

September 08, 2009|Associated Press

VENICE, ITALY — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez received a movie star welcome Monday at the Venice Film Festival, where he walked the red carpet with director Oliver Stone for the premiere of the documentary "South of the Border."

Hundreds of admirers, some chanting "president, president," gathered outside of the Casino for the leader's arrival. A few held up Venezuelan flags and a banner in Spanish that read "Welcome, president."

Chavez threw a flower into the crowd and touched his heart, and at one point took a photographer's camera to snap a picture himself. Security outside the Casino was tightened in advance of his arrival, with military police checking bags.

Stone says "South of the Border" is meant to illustrate "the sweeping changes" in South America in recent years as a direct counterpoint to what he sees as Chavez's depiction as a dictator by U.S. and European media.

Stone said he didn't see it necessary to present the opposition's case in his film.

"A dark side? There's a dark side to everything. Why do you seek out the dark side when the guy is doing good things?" Stone asked. "He is a democrat and there is opposition to him, and he's not perfect. But he is doing tremendous things for Venezuela and the region."

Chavez's critics accuse him of growing increasingly authoritarian while sidelining key opponents and trying to clamp down on the private media. Opponents accuse him of ignoring problems at home, including rampant crime and corruption.

"South of the Border" is showing out of competition at the Venice Film Festival, which ends Saturday.

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