Venezuela’s top diplomat has echoed Fidel Castro’s accusation that Washington is fomenting unrest in Libya to justify an invasion to seize the North African nation’s oil reserves.

Foreign minister Nicolas Maduro claimed the United States was trying to create a movement inside Libya aimed at toppling Muammar Gaddafi.

Maduro did not condemn or defend the violent crackdown on Libyans participating in the popular uprising against Gaddafi’s long rule.

He called for a peaceful solution to the upheaval in Libya and questioned the veracity of media reports on the bloody uprising, which has crept closer to Gaddafi’s stronghold in Tripoli.

“They are creating conditions to justify an invasion of Libya,” Maduro said.

“Libya is going through difficult times, which should not be measured with information from imperial news agencies,” Maduro added, referring to Western media.

Gaddafi has been a close ally of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, and Chavez’s political opponents have strongly criticised those close relations.

Venezuela’s leftist president said on Thursday: “Viva Libya and its independence! Gadhafi is facing a civil war.”

It was the first time that Chavez had publicly referred to the violence in Libya.

On Tuesday, Castro, Chavez’s mentor, said the unrest in Libya might be a pretext by the US to push for a Nato invasion.

Castro said in a column published by Cuban state media that it was too early to criticise Gaddafi. But he did urge protests against something that he claimed is planned: A US-led invasion to take control of Libya’s oil.

Venezuela and Libya are both members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Chavez, who has forged close ties with Gaddafi since taking office in 1999, has repeatedly accused Washington of conspiring to topple his own government. The self-proclaimed socialist says the United States wants to control Venezuela’s immense petroleum reserves.

US officials have scoffed at suggestions that Washington is plotting against Venezuela’s government.

Earlier on Thursday, Afif Tajeldine, Venezuela’s ambassador to Libya, said dozens of Venezuelans who were working in the country had been evacuated by their employers. At least 76 Venezuelans were living in Libya, the embassy said.

Tajeldine said they had all been staying at the embassy in the capital of Tripoli and only 13 remained on Thursday.

He described the capital as calm.