Chavez welcomes Ahmadinejad in Venezuela

CNN) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received a warm reception Wednesday from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, wrapping up a three-nation visit to Latin America to shore up support against the United States.

Ahmadinejad arrived Tuesday night on a flight from Bolivia, where he spent a few hours meeting with President Evo Morales. The Iranian leader met Monday with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

On Wednesday afternoon, Chavez gave Ahmadinejad a warm welcome with full military honors. Wearing a dark suit with a blue shirt and red tie, Chavez stood at attention in front of Palacio de Miraflores as a military band played the national anthems for both countries.

The two men then reviewed the presidential honor guard, clad in bright red uniforms with gold piping and tall black hats with a red plume on top.

"We are here to welcome you, brother Ahmadinejad. Leader. Brother. Comrade," Chavez said.

Ahmadinejad, in return, called Chavez "my valiant brother."

"A brother," he said, "who is resisting like a mountain the intentions of imperialism and colonialism."

Afterward, the two men shook hands and hugged.

Ahmadinejad was met with demonstrations in Brazil on Monday and again Wednesday in Venezuela.

He has already visited Gambia, on the African continent, on this trip and will stop in Senegal on his way back to Iran.

The Iranian president hopes to strengthen economic ties with the five countries. But more significantly, he aims to bolster political ties with sympathetic governments as he tries to counter U.S. and European efforts to curtail Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Ahmadinejad also wants to improve Iran's image after the brutal repression of demonstrators who objected to the outcome of the presidential election in June. Ahmadinejad was re-elected, but many Iranians believe the election was rigged.

In Venezuela, the two leaders were expected to discuss agreements in areas such as energy, investment, trade and science. Experts from the two countries were reported to be reviewing 70 new accords.

Chavez is among Ahmadinejad's top supporters in Latin America, both leaders finding common ground in their opposition to U.S. foreign policy. Both men referred to "imperialism" several times in their statements Wednesday.

With its burgeoning nuclear program, Iran is interested in largely untapped uranium deposits in Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia, the three nations Ahmadinejad visited this week.

Iran's alliance with Venezuela presents a challenge for U.S. national interests.

Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau, in a September column in the Wall Street Journal, said that "Mr. Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have created a cozy financial, political and military partnership rooted in a shared anti-American animus."

During a visit to Iran that month, Chavez highlighted a series of joint ventures, including the construction of ethanol plants in Venezuela and gas exploration in Iran by Venezuela's state-run oil company. He also said he aimed to build a "nuclear village" with Iranian help.

In October, Chavez said Iran was helping to find uranium in Venezuela.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace estimated in December that Venezuela could have 50,000 tons of unmined uranium. Brazil also has a nuclear program and is said to sit on one of the world's largest uranium reserves.

While some analysts believe Chavez could want to eventually export uranium to Iran, it might not be technically feasible.

"It's like everything Chavez does," said Robert Pastor, who was a national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. "It's more symbolic than real."

Brazil also is not likely to export uranium to Iran, said Bernard Aronson, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs from 1989 to 1993.

"That would be a bridge too far," he said. "It would be too high a cost."
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Russia train crash 'caused by bomb'

A bomb blast caused the Russian train crash in which at least 26 people were killed, intelligence officials say.

The Nevsky Express derailed with nearly 700 on board as it ran through remote countryside between the capital Moscow and the second city, St Petersburg.

Investigators found "elements of an explosive device" at the scene of Friday's attack, a statement said.

Officials said a second, less powerful device went off on Saturday near the site of the first, but no-one was hurt.

There was no immediate confirmed claim of responsibility for the blast on Friday evening, which hit a train popular with government officials and business executives at peak travel time.

"Criminology experts say, on the basis of preliminary information, that an improvised explosive device, equivalent to 7kg (15 lb) of TNT, had gone off," said Alexander Bortnikov, head of Russia's domestic intelligence service.

At least three of the 14 carriages left the tracks as the train reportedly approached speeds up 200 km/h (130mph).

Russia's prosecutor-general has opened a criminal case on terrorism charges, Russian news agencies say.

If terrorism is confirmed as the cause, observers say the derailment would represent the deadliest attack outside the volatile North Caucasus region for five years.

'Attack on elite'

Pavel Felgenhauer, defence correspondent for Russia's Novaya Gazeta newspaper, told the BBC News website the key suspects for investigators would be "either militants from Russia's North Caucasus region or nationalist extremists, pro-Nazi groups".

"I think we can expect the Russian authorities to come up with some names soon, because this attack is politically very embarrassing.

"This is an expensive, high speed train, used by an elite which has been pushing to transfer parts of government functions to St Petersburg. We already have reports of several high-ranking government and local officials among the dead.

"Whoever is responsible, this attack clearly seems aimed not so much at the public, but directly at the ruling class."

'Loud bang'

Hundreds of rescuers and officials worked through the night at the scene near the town of Bologoye, about 400km (250 miles) north-west of Moscow.

Some reports say as many as 39 people have died.

The train was reported to be carrying around 650 passengers and two dozen or so staff.

About 90 people are in hospital, some taken there by helicopter.

Many of the injured are said to be in a serious condition.

According to some reports, the scene of the crash, in wooded countryside, was so remote it took emergency services two hours to get there.

Passengers spoke of a loud bang just before the derailment.

Russian television channels broadcast a recording of a mobile phone call from the train driver to the emergencies ministry.

"There was an explosion under the locomotive," he said. "I do not know what we hit. We are derailed. The locomotive and carriages, I do not know yet what else, everything is in smoke. "

Federal prosecutors' spokesman Vladimir Markin told Itar-Tass news agency that a crater found at the site was 1.5m (5ft) wide and 0.7m deep.

"Indeed this was a terrorist attack," he said.

In 2007, a bomb on the same line derailed a train, injuring nearly 30 passengers.

Two men suspected of having links to Chechen rebels were accused of planting a bomb next to the track.

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