* Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez left Tuesday for Austria, United Kingdom, Italy, Libya, and Algeria, with a stopover in Bolivia, and will return to Venezuela on May 18, in order to strengthen his government foreign policy.
* Later, Chávez is to attend the 4th European-Latin American summit, to be held on May 12 and 13 in Vienna, DPA reported.
* President Chávez asked Wednesday to widen up Venezuela-Italy cooperation to fight poverty and exclusion, AP reported.
* During a speech at the Italian Parliament, Chávez expressed willingness "to open fronts much wider cooperation fronts and improve existing cooperation in the political and social areas, in the fight against poverty and exclusion."
* The ruler congratulated the new president of the Chamber of Deputies, communist Fausto Bertinotti.
* President Chávez Thursday met with Pope Benedict XVI behind closed doors for some 35 minutes, and they reportedly addressed the issues of poverty and inequality.
* The rector of the Venezuelan Seminary in Rome, father Pedro Freites, told local news TV network Globovisión that Pope Benedict XVI expressed to Chávez his concern about some topics such as "the freedom the Holy See has to appoint and designate bishops, and requested to keep the catholic identity of the Santa Rosa de Lima Catholic University."
* During the meeting, the Pope also voiced concern about a draft reform to the law governing public education in Venezuela that is expected to exclude religious education. According to Freites, Benedict XVI also asked Chávez for greater independence for the media and the Church media to comply their mission under the rule of law.
* Freites added that Benedict XVI delivered a personal letter to Chávez summarizing his concerns and requests, as a collection of Vatican coins. Chávez, in turn, gave Benedict XVI a serigraphy of Liberator Simón Bolívar.
* Chávez reassured the Pope he would listen to his petitions and vowed to "overcome the tensions by respecting the legitimate rights of all," the Vatican said in a press release, as quoted by AFP.
* President Chávez, who is visiting Rome, Thursday called Romano Prodi, leader of the Italian center-left coalition, to congratulate him on his electoral triumph early in April, Efe reported.
* Chávez, who arrived in Rome late Wednesday for an official visit, congratulated Prodi on his electoral victory and expressed his best wishes for Prodi's future Government.
* On arriving in Austria, where the European Union-Latin America and the Caribbean Summit will be held, President Chávez denied an energy crisis due to the nationalization of hydrocarbons in Bolivia.
* Additionally, he briefed on a new integration system -the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA.) "Rather than a proposal is an ongoing mechanism which is stinging the US Empire and its lackeys."
* With respect to the controversy resulting from Venezuela's withdrawal from the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), the ruler ratified continued relations with Colombia and Peru. "We made a great effort to save CAN, to re-launch it. There were seven years of fight. But CAN passed away when the United States executed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Colombia and Peru."
* President Chávez Friday asked Europe to understand that Bolivia "is rising in peace, rather than using fusils."
* "Europe has to listen to this," Chávez said during a news conference at the Fourth Summit of Heads of State and Government of the European Union, Latin America and the Caribbean in Vienna. He said Bolivian President Evo Morales "should be supported."
* Chávez explained that Morales deserves support because on May 1st he met his electoral promise to nationalize Bolivian hydrocarbons, a move that has raised concern in the international community.
* Chávez has criticized the attempts at defining which countries are entitled to nuclear energy, as published Friday in Israeli daily newspaper Maariv. "Why does nobody make reference to nuclear energy in Israel?" he wondered.
* Last February, before the Board of Governors, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Venezuela advocated "the right of Iran to develop a nuclear program for peaceful purposes and the right of other states to access such a source of energy."
* Queried about recent charges of anti-Semitism, Chávez repeated, "they are part of what is constantly fabricated not against me, but against Venezuela," Efe quoted.
* "Last Christmas Eve," the Venezuelan president recalled, "during a visit to a social welfare site, I made reference to the birth of Jesus. And I said that those who crucified him were the same who tried to kill (Liberator Simón) Bolívar and betrayed the people."
* London Mayor Ken Livingstone labeled Friday Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as a benchmark for democracy and social progress in Latin America.
* In a communiqué disseminated by the London council, Livingstone, under the Labor party leftwing, looked forward to welcoming the Venezuelan president. The ruler is to start next Sunday a two-day private visit to the British capital city.
* "Since 1998, he has won ten elections in eight years. This is a record and an unprecedented electoral success," the mayor asserted.
* According to Livingstone, the Venezuelan president "has gained such an electoral popularity because, among other steps, he has introduced effective health care in Venezuela and launched a literacy campaign."
* Additionally, Chávez "is paying for eye surgery of 250,000 people to cure their blindness," Efe quoted.
* The leaders of the European Union railed Friday on protectionist measures taken by Bolivia and Venezuela in the energy area, during the summit attended by 58 European and Latin American heads of state.
* Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel, the host, told the two countries that opening markets is crucial to foster economic development and wealth.
* "There are always two possibilities in life. Whether or not you want to open markets. The choice is yours," Schuessel admonished.
* For his part, British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela to show the world that they use energy resources responsibly.
* President Chávez proposed during the Fourth Summit of Heads of State and Government of Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union the organization of Petro-Euroamericas.
* On leaving a working session, the ruler explained that the instrument would be responsible for pursuing cooperation in the energy area with countries linked with Europe, such as North Africa, including Algeria, Libya and Egypt.
* "It would be firstly, for a group of European and Latin American experts to assess the energy issue and, secondly, to find solutions," Chávez maintained.
HYCROCARBONS Venezuela prepares to face "difficult times" following a slump in crude oil prices, stated on Wednesday the President of state-run oil holding Petróleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa), Eulogio Del Pino in an oil conference in Margarita Island, eastern Venezuela.
HYDROCARBONS World major oil producers are concerned about current oil prices, according to Venezuela's Minister of Foreign Affairs Rafael Ramírez, following a meeting on Tuesday in Vienna with representatives of Saudi Arabia, Russia and Mexico.
HYCROCARBONS Representatives of Venezuela, Mexico and Russia met in Vienna to coordinate their position two days ahead of a crucial OPEC meeting, in the context of a dramatic fall in oil prices.