Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has paid tribute to his friend, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, who died Tuesday after a two-year battle with cancer.
Ahmadinejad said Chavez would “return on Resurrection Day” to “establish peace, justice and kindness" along with Jesus and the Imam Mahdi, a sacred figure in Shi'a Islam prophesied to appear in the end times to redeem the world.
In Islam, Jesus is considered a prophet who will return on Judgment Day to assist the Mahdi.
Ahmadinejad also said he thought Chavez’s illness was “suspicious,” alluding to previous claims by Chavez that his cancer may have been deliberately caused by the U.S. government.
"Would it be so strange that they've invented technology to spread cancer and we won't know about it for 50 years?" Chavez had said in 2011, Bloomberg reported.
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Under Chavez and Ahmadinejad, Venezuela and Iran formed strong political and economic ties. The two leaders were united in their opposition to the policies of the United States and its Western allies.
Chavez had stood behind Iran while it faced criticism over its nuclear program, and once threatened to sell it a fleet of U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets after the U.S. imposed a ban on arms sales to Venezuela in 2006.
A fervent critic of former U.S. President George W. Bush (whom he referred to as “El Diablo” -- ''The devil') and of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Chavez denounced U.S. foreign policy during a 2006 meeting with Ahmadinejad.
“Let’s save the human race, let’s finish off the U.S. empire,” he said.