Source AP ©

Venezuela's Chavez praises Sean Penn for critical stance on Bush

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez praised American actor Sean Penn on Wednesday for his critical stance against the war in Iraq, saying the two chatted by phone and soon plan to meet in person.

Chavez said Penn traveled to Venezuela this week wanting to learn more about the situation in the country and walked around some of Caracas' poor barrios on his own.

"Welcome to Venezuela, Mr. Penn. What drives him is conciousness, the search for new paths," Chavez said in a televised speech. "He's one of the greatest opponents of the Iraq invasion."

Chavez read aloud from a recent open letter by Penn to U.S. President George W. Bush in which the actor condemned the Iraq war and called for Bush to be impeached, saying the president along with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are "villainously and criminally obscene people."

The socialist president, who shares those views, said he and Penn talked by phone - "with my bad English but we understood each other more or less."

"Somebody told me Sean Penn caught a plane and said 'I want to go to Venezuela' ... because someone told him, 'Look, in Venezuela things are happening,"' Chavez said.

Chavez said the two plan to meet on Thursday. For his part, Penn on Wednesday toured the country's new film studios on the outskirts of Caracas.