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Venezuelan prez reaffirms Cuba alliance



HAVANA: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has renewed a strategic alliance with Cuba, signing $1 billion in cooperation agreements two weeks after his election to replace late Hugo Chavez.

The 51 agreements signed on Saturday during Maduro's visit to Cuba

encompass health, education, transportation, sports, energy and special 'social missions.'

An estimated 40,000 Cuban doctors, technicians and advisers work in Venezuela, which supplies Cuba with 130,000 barrels

of oil a day as part of a

12-year-old relationship that has closely bound together their leftist, anti-US governments.

"Cuba and Venezuela are going to continue working together," Maduro said, calling it "a strategic alliance that transcends the times, which, more than an alliance, is a brotherhood."

Cuba is only the second country Maduro has visited since his election April 14 by a narrow margin that is the subject of a bitter, unresolved dispute with the opposition charging the vote was stolen.

Venezuela's National Electoral Council said late on Saturday it will begin an expanded audit of the results on Monday, but not under terms demanded by opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.

The council's president, Tibisay Lucena, has said that the audit cannot overturn Maduro's win. The opposition has until the end of next week to file suit with the Supreme Court to contest the outcome.

In Cuba, Maduro held talks with President Raul Castro, who reaffirmed Cuba's "unyielding will to continue cooperation in solidarity with Venezuela, determined to share our fate with the heroic Venezuelan people."

Maduro said he met separately for five hours with Fidel Castro, 86, the retired leader of the Cuban revolution, remembering Chavez and the alliance they forged in October 2002. "It is a relationship of brothers," Maduro told reporters.

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