Venezuela's Chavez blames U.S. for Tibet unrest

CARACAS, March 23 (Reuters) - Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez blamed the United States for violent protests in Tibet during the last two weeks that he said were aimed at trying to destabilize China.

In comments reported by his press office on Sunday, Chavez said the protests were an example of the U.S. “empire” “going against China” and trying to divide the Asian powerhouse.

Communist China has occupied Tibet, a Buddhist region previously ruled by monks, since a military invasion in 1950.

At least 19 people were killed after protests and rioting against the occupation broke out on March 10.

China has been widely criticized for a crackdown against the demonstrators ahead of August’s Olympic games to be held in Beijing.

Some leftists in Latin America see the Tibetan independence movement led by the Dalai Lama as a pro-Washington group of conservative monks.

Chavez is a relentless Washington critic who says he favors a multipolar world to balance U.S. dominance.

He also refuses to recognize Kosovo as an independent republic, saying the new European state is a U.S. imposition.

Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel, additional reporting by Enrique Andres Pretel, editing by Vicki Allen