Venezuela's Hugo Chavez loses Libya stadium honour

View of the main gate of the stadium named after Hugo Chavez outside Benghazi, with graffiti in Arabic reading Martyrs of February

A stadium in eastern Libya named in honour of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been stripped of its title, opposition groups say.

The Hugo Chavez stadium outside Benghazi has been renamed "Martyrs of February", in memory of people killed fighting to overthrow the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

President Chavez is a close ally of Colonel Gaddafi.

Last week he offered to mediate in the conflict in Libya.

"The name has been officially changed to 'Martyrs of February,'" the policeman responsible for guarding the stadium, Jaled al-Barghati, told the AFP news agency.

"The decision was made by the [opposition] National Council following a request from the local population," he added.

The sign with Hugo Chavez's name on it still stands at the entrance to the stadium, but the new name is emblazoned on its walls in red graffiti.

The 11,000 seat stadium in Benina, outside Benghazi, was named after the left-wing Venezuelan leader in 2009.

The Libyan Football Federation said it wanted to honour him for his "brave humanitarian positions," particularly in support of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

President Chavez and Col Gaddafi have built up a close relationship over the years, based on their shared opposition to what they see as US "imperialism" and interest in reviving the oil exporters' cartel, Opec.

Last week Mr Chavez offered to set up an international peace mission to mediate in the Libyan crisis, but the initiative has received a cool reception in Libya and from Western nations.

He has also accused the US and other Nato countries of exaggerating the crisis in Libya to justify an invasion and seize control of Libya's oil.

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