Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has decried recent reports condemning Syria's violent crackdowns on protests, offering Syrian President Bashar Assad his support and calling him a "humanist" and a "brother", according to a report by the Press Association.
This is not the first time the Venezuelan leader has defended an allegedly autocratic leader since the start of protests that have swept the Middle East in recent months. Anti-government protests are currently underway in Bahrain, Yemen and Jordan, in what has been dubbed the "Arab Spring."
Chavez came to the defense of embattled Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, who has come under harsh criticism for his brutal attacks on protesters, prompting an internationally backed no-fly zone operation that is currently underway. The Venezuelan leader has developed close ties with both Gadhafi and Assad over the years.
Chavez reportedly accused the United States of exaggerating the protests in Syria to justify future military intervention, similar to the air strikes currently being carried out in Libya.
"Now some supposed political protest movements have begun [in Syria], a few deaths ... and now they are accusing the president of killing his people and later the Yankees will come to bomb the people to save them," the Press Association reported Chavez saying in a televised speech.
Protests in Syria have intensified over the past week, and the human rights organization Amnesty International reported Friday that 55 Syrians have been killed since protests began.
Further deaths have been reported since, with demonstrations spreading throughout the country over the weekend. Syrian security forces reportedly conducted a midnight raid in Damascus on Friday night, arresting 200.
"How cynical is the new format the empire has invented, to generate violent conflict, generate blood in a country, to later bombard it, intervene and take over its natural resources and convert it into a colony," Chavez is quoted as saying.
Syria's administration has attempted to mollify the protesters, reportedly releasing 260 prisoners over the weekend and promising increased freedoms and better pay and benefits for state workers. But the protests have persisted, as have the brutal crackdowns.