Venezuelan jets, ships fire missiles at sea in military exercises

Venezuela fired live missiles from fighter jets and ships Friday during exercises intended to demonstrate the firepower of President Hugo Chavez's military. The televised war games allowed the military to showcase some of the hardware bought under Chavez, who says Venezuela's main threat is the United States. A US Navy plane last month flew over the same Caribbean island base, drawing a diplomatic protest from Venezuela. US officials said the plane accidentally strayed into Venezuelan airspace during a counter-drug mission, but Chavez accused Washington of espionage. Defense Minister Gustavo Rangel Briceno commanded the troops during Friday's exercises, ordering them to fire at mock "enemy units." It was the first time in 13 years that such drills were held with live missile fire at sea, he said. Latin American countries including Colombia and Peru have voiced concern about billions of dollars of arms that Chavez has purchased, but Rangel said new weaponry is needed to keep Venezuela safe from the US.