May 18 (Reuters) - Venezuela has sent a third shipment of diesel to Syria, the energy minister said on Friday, underscoring President Hugo Chavez’s support of the Middle East country despite its intensified crackdown on protesters.
Earlier this year, Venezuela’s government said it had sent at least two shipments of fuel to Syria, potentially undermining Western sanctions as a rare supplier to the increasingly isolated regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
A lawmaker from Chavez’s socialist party said in March that another shipment was being prepared and Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez confirmed that it had been sent.
“We’ve provided some supplies to Syria. We’re willing to help,” Ramirez told reporters. “We’ve sent three shipments (and) they haven’t needed any more than that.”
The fuel is crucial to Syria’s embattled al-Assad as former trading partners have dropped out for fear of violating international sanctions.
Chavez, who has made only fleeting appearances in recent months as he battles cancer, has been a vociferous supporter of Syria as part of a self-styled international “anti-imperialist” alliance.
An anti-government revolt that began as a peaceful protest movement has become increasingly militarized as rebels fight back against Assad’s violent crackdown. The United Nations has estimated that at least 9,000 people have been killed.
Ramirez added that Venezuela, South America’s No. 1 oil exporter, would insist that fellow members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) keep within agreed production quotas.
The next OPEC meeting is due to be held in Vienna on June 14, where it is likely to focus on quotas and production. At a meeting in December last year, the organization’s production target was set at 30 million barrels per day.
Venezuela, along with Iran and Algeria, has opposed raising output in the past, preferring instead to keep prices high.
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