Calling Chavez a "terrific danger" to the US, Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition of America and a former presidential candidate, said on Monday on his TV show The 700 Club, that it was the duty of the US to stop Chavez from making Venezuela a "launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism".

Chavez has emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of US President George Bush, accusing the US of conspiring to topple his government and possibly backing plots to assassinate him.

US officials have called the accusations ridiculous.

"You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it," Robertson said.

"It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war ... and I don't think any oil shipments will stop."

A message to a Robertson spokeswoman were not returned.

Covert operatives

Robertson accused the US of failing to act when Chavez was briefly overthrown in 2002.

Chavez (L) accuses the US of
backing plots to topple him

"We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability," Robertson said.

"We don't need another $200-billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator," he continued. "It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."

In a separate development, conservative radio host Michael Graham was suspended by WMAL-AM after his 25 July broadcast drew protests from the Council on American-Islam Relations.

According to CAIR, Graham, who had a daily three-hour talk show on WMAL, had said: "We are at war with a terrorist organisation named Islam."

No retraction

On his website on Monday, Graham said WMAL had asked him to retract his comments about Islam and deliver an on-air apology. "I refused," he said. "And for that refusal, I was fired."

Muslim group CAIR welcomed the
action against Michael Graham

WMAL president and general manager Chris Berry told the industry publication Radio & Records: "Some of Michael's statements about Islam went over the line - and this isn't the first time that he has been reprimanded for insensitive language and comments.

"I asked Michael for an on-air acknowledgment that some of his remarks were overly broad and inexplicably he refused."

CAIR executive director Nihad Awad said on Monday: "Although we are saddened that Michael Graham would not take responsibility for his hate-filled words, we do welcome WMAL's action as a step towards removing some of the harmful anti-Muslim rhetoric that fill our nation's airwaves."

Graham blamed the Muslim group for his firing. "As a fan of talk radio, I find it absolutely outrageous that pressure from a special interest group like CAIR can result in the abandonment of free speech and open discourse on a talk radio show," he said.