Venezuelan President lauds growing opposition to free trade proposals

CARACAS (Venezuela): Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez welcomed activists at the World Social Forum on Thursday, saying ideas being discussed at the event have raised awareness and helped to ''pulverise'' U.S.-backed free trade proposals.

''There is a group of citizens that have come to this extraordinary event from other parts of the planet, called together by the social movements from the entire world. Once more, in the name of our people, I welcome you, wherever you come from and whatever you represent,'' Mr. Chavez said. In the televised speech, Mr. Chavez later referred to U.S. President George W. Bush as ''Mr. Danger,'' called his Government ''immoral'' and applauded growing opposition to Washington's free market proposals.

Threat of imperialism

''These ideas have been pulverised by the history represented, in the first place, by the people and the consciousness of the people. That's why the World Social Forum that is happening right now in Caracas is so important,'' he said. The Leftist gathering, timed to coincide with the market-friendly World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, features discussions of subjects such as ''Imperialism: The greatest threat to humanity'' and ''Socialism of the 21st Century.''

''This world is in transformation, moving into larger spaces and with more strength,'' added Mr. Chavez, one of Latin America's most outspoken critics of the Bush administration and U.S. ''imperialism.'' Participants at the six-day conference, which has drawn more than 60,000 people from around the world, have heaped praise on the socialist-oriented economic policies established by Mr. Chavez in this oil-rich yet poverty-stricken South American nation of 26 million.

Mr. Chavez warned that increased energy consumption in wealthy countries such as the United States was reaching unsustainable levels. ''It's an irresponsible and also contaminating waste, that's dangerous for ecological balance, rhythm of life,'' he said . - AP