Chavez and allies launch Bank of the South

Hugo Chavez and leaders of six other Latin American nations formally launched a regional development bank Sunday that the Venezuelan leader is touting as South America's answer to US-influenced international lenders. With US$7 billion (€4.8 billion) in expected startup capital, backers say the Banco del Sur, or Bank of the South, will offer Latin American countries loans with fewer strings attached than those proffered by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund or the Inter-American Development Bank. The leaders signed the "founding act" of the bank Sunday during a packed ceremony at Argentina's presidential palace. The event was hosted by departing President Nestor Kirchner and his wife, president-elect Cristina Fernandez, who takes office Monday. A crowd of dignitaries and government officials cheered the leaders as they signed the accord on a glass-topped table, backed by flags of their South American nations.