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Chavez stands by embattled minister

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has defended his oil minister, saying he has a solid record leading the industry for a decade despite a recent refinery explosion that killed at least 42 people.

Expressing full support for Rafael Ramirez, Mr Chavez said that if he wins re-election in October he will pick him again to head the Oil and Mining Ministry and the state-run company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, known as PDVSA.

Mr Chavez backed Mr Ramirez when asked by a reporter if he would consider dismissing his oil minister over the matter.

"How can someone suggest, if they still haven't completed the investigations, that I dismiss someone like Minister Rafael Ramirez?" Mr Chavez said at a news conference in a Caracas park.

"I'm forced to go out in his defence because he's a great Venezuelan, an honest man, a tireless worker who has held the post at the ministry for 10 years," Mr Chavez said.

The cause of the August 25 blast, which also injured more than 150 people, is under investigation.

Some experts have said that insufficient maintenance by Venezuela's oil company has probably made such disasters likelier.

They note that PDVSA's revenues are used to finance social programmes started by Mr Chavez's government.

Mr Ramirez and other government officials say they have spent billions of dollars maintaining the country's refineries.


From Belfast Telegraph