Venezuela 'is calm' after Hugo Chavez cancer surgery

Mr Chavez ended the speech with the revolutionary slogan: "Forever onward toward victory!"

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Venezuela's army has dismissed concerns about political instability in the country after President Hugo Chavez's admission that he had cancer surgery.

"The country is calm," the army chief, Gen Henry Rangel Silva, said.

He said Mr Chavez, who remains in Cuba after the operation, was "getting better" and was still in charge.

Speculation about Mr Chavez's health had been rife since he left Venezuela three weeks ago for what officials said was an operation on a pelvic abscess.

But in a speech on Thursday, the president - who has been in power for 12 years - revealed he had also had surgery to remove a cancerous tumour.

He added that he was determined to overcome his health battle and was now on the road to "full recovery".

It is not clear how serious Mr Chavez's condition is, but the opposition has questioned whether he is still able to run Venezuela from abroad.

'Fundamental error'

"We have seen our comandante thinner than usual but still standing," Gen Gangel Silva said on Friday.

Analysis

This was a Hugo Chavez clearly weakened by ill health. His desire to speak to the nation was undimmed, but his voice was much weaker than usual and he had visibly lost weight.

The Cuban and Venezuelan authorities have done well to keep this news under wraps for so long. But questions must be asked about whether concealing such information was the right thing to do.

President Chavez addressed the issue by saying he did not want to bring his supporters on what might be an unhappy journey with him.

Venezuelans are still wondering if the president will return to the country in time for bicentennial celebrations scheduled for Tuesday. But in the longer term, his ill health calls into question his chances of being re-elected for another six-year term in 2012.

His time spent recuperating out of the public eye has highlighted how much government is centred on him and how he lacks an obvious successor.

"The truth is he is getting better, he's fine," stressing that there was no threat to Venezuela's constitutional order.

The army chief added that Mr Chavez's recovery was "satisfactory" and he would be home "soon".

Looking much thinner than when he last addressed the nation, Mr Chavez on Thursday confirmed what many had suspected - his health problems were more serious than first thought, says the BBC's Sarah Grainger in Caracas.

Standing behind a podium, the president said he had made the "fundamental error" of failing to look after himself.

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro had first told him he had looked unwell while he was on a state visit to Havana, he added.

Mr Chavez said he underwent a first operation on a pelvic abscess on 10 June, just as officials had informed the Venezuelan public.

But during his recuperation, tests had "confirmed the existence of a tumour with cancerous cells", forcing him to undergo another operation. The extraction of the tumour had been "completely successful", he said.

Venezuelans in Caracas react to the news about Hugo Chavez's health

He added that his condition had been "evolving satisfactorily" while he received a "complementary treatment to combat the different types of cells found, and thereby continue on the path to my full recovery".

Mr Chavez called it a "new battle that life has placed before us", and ended the speech with the revolutionary slogan often used by Mr Castro: "Forever onward toward victory! We will be victorious! Until my return!"

The address was aired by the pan-American channel Telesur late on Thursday. It is unclear when it was recorded. Screen captions indicated that he was speaking from Cuba.

Mr Chavez did not say how much longer he expected to remain in Cuba recovering, but our correspondent says everyone hopes he will be back in Venezuela on Tuesday, when it celebrates 200 years of independence.

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