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A view from Tehran's street: Hugo Chavez a friend

Abedin Taherkenareh / EPA file

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L) and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during a ceremony marking the start of a two-day visit in Tehran, in a file photo dated April 2, 2009.

TEHRAN, Iran — The day after the death of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, two men chatted in a barbershop halfway around the world.

"Did you hear (President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad's friend died?" one asked as he sat in the basement of what was once Tehran's Hilton Hotel on Wednesday.

"Who?" exclaimed the second.

"Hugo Chavez."

"Ah, yes, I heard he died last week, they are just telling people now."

It is not uncommon to hear conspiracy theories in Iran, so it wasn’t exactly surprising that one would come up so early in this particular conversation. Also unsurprising is the conversation itself — here people from all walks of life and all ages constantly discuss politics, their own and others'.

The two men in the barbershop — which offers hot face towels, neck and shoulder massages and shaves went on to talk about Chavez's merits and flaws as if they were host and guest on a political chat show.

They came to the conclusion that Chavez was a bon viveur and that his people ultimately liked him. They made some comparisons between Iran and Venezuela, two oil-rich states that have been alienated by the West.

Too soon, the chat show came to an end.

As the discussion revealed, Chavez was a close friend of Iran — they shared a common antagonism toward the United States. Indeed, Chavez could not have found a better ally than Ahmadinejad, whose government declared a day of mourning after the death was announced.

Ahmadinejad also seemed to put Chavez in the ranks of holy figures, saying he would "return on resurrection day."

"I have no doubt Chavez will return to Earth together with Jesus and the perfect" Imam Mahdi, the most revered figure of Shiite's Muslims, and help "establish peace, justice and kindness" in the world, Ahmadinejad added.

Over the years, Ahmadinejad and Chavez showed what appeared to be genuine warmth for each other. They lavished praise on one another and chastised America. They called "Imperial America" a global threat and demanded a new world order.

Chavez supported Iran’s nuclear program, which Iran says is for civilian purposes, despite international concern. They also both courted controversy and enjoyed the support of their respective working classes.

Iran has sent it deepest condolences to Venezuela and will probably have a high ranking member of the government if not President Ahmadinejad attend the state funeral.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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