CARACAS — President Hugo Chavez vowed Tuesday to keep supporting Bashar al-Assad, calling him Syria's legitimate president and blaming the United States for the war that has raged on for nearly 19 months.

"How can I not support the government of Bashar al-Assad if it is the legitimate government of Syria?" asked Chavez, who was re-elected Sunday to a third term.

He called the rebels fighting to oust Assad terrorists.

"Who am I going to back, the terrorists... who run around killing people right and left?" Chavez asked.

The firebrand leftist leader regularly angers the United States with his close ties to Washington's top foes Cuba, Iran and Syria.

Chavez said Syria is enduring a "planned crisis" similar to the war that led to the overthrow of Moamer Kadhafi in Libya.

"The government of the United States is one of the parties most to blame for this disaster" in Syria, he added. "Now, Mr Obama, if you are re-elected, sit back and reflect, and the governments of Europe should do the same."

He praised Russia and China for blocking three UN Security Council resolutions that threatened the Assad regime with sanctions if it did not halt the scourge of violence that activists say has already killed more than 32,000 people.

Turning to domestic policy, Chavez urged the opposition to open up a "sincere" debate with him, recognize his achievements and stop trashing his government.

"Of course, there are things we have to change. But the opposition has a doomsday vision of the country. They deny almost everything that the government does," said Chavez.