Chavez unveils surveillance drone

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (r) and Venezuelan Defense Minister Henry Range Silva during a visit to the ministry of defence in Caracas Hugo Chavez said the country would continue to build more drones

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Venezuela's president has said the country has begun producing unmanned aerial surveillance drones.

Hugo Chavez said the aircraft were being built as part of military co-operation with Iran and other allies.

In a televised address from the country's defence ministry, Mr Chavez said the aircraft, of which he said there are currently three, were solely for defensive purposes.

He said Venezuela had also started making grenades and Kalashnikov rifles.

He said that Russia, China, Iran and "other allied countries" had contributed to the projects.

"We have the right [to manufacture weapons]," Mr Chavez said. "We would not if we were a colony, but we are a free and independent country."

Mr Chavez - who has repeatedly warned that the US could invade Venezuela to seize control of its immense oil reserves - said the drones and arms were for defence purposes.

"We do not have any intentions of attacking anybody," he said.

Officials said the drone was part of a system aimed at the surveillance and monitoring of pipelines, dams and other rural infrastructure.

The country has spent billions of dollars on Russian arms and military aircraft since 2005, including 24 Sukhoi fighter jets, dozens of attack helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles.

The drone has a range of 100km (60 miles) and can reach an altitude of 3,000m according to Gen Julio Morales, head of the state-run Cavim arms manufacturer, which developed the aircraft.

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