Latin America & Caribbean

Hugo Chavez returns to Venezuela after surgery in Cuba

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has arrived back in his country after receiving medical treatment in Cuba.

Footage on state TV showed the leader saying goodbye to Cuban leader Raul Castro, then getting off a plane at Maiquetia airport outside Caracas.

Mr Chavez has been in Cuba since 8 June, where he underwent an operation to remove a cancerous tumour.

He is currently addressing tens of thousands of supporters gathered outside the presidential palace.

His return comes a day before Venezuela celebrates the 200th anniversary of its independence from Spain.

As he stepped from the plane wearing a blue-and-white tracksuit, Mr Chavez raised his arm in greeting and then embraced Vice-President Elias Jaua, his brother Adan Chavez and other officials.

"I'm fine. I'm happy," he said. "A perfect landing."

In a telephone interview later, Mr Chavez told state television he was having breakfast and "devouring everything".

He said he had spent "very difficult days" in Cuba but that his recovery was going well.

A post in Spanish on his Twitter account said: "Here I am, back home and very happy. Good morning my beloved Venezuela! Good morning beloved people. Thanks be to God. It is the beginning of the return."

Mr Chavez, who survived a coup attempt in 2002, told state TV he was under very strict medical supervision "with medication, rest, meals controlled".

He said he would not be able to take part in Tuesday's independence day parade but would follow it from the presidential palace.

Cheering

State TV said Mr Chavez, 56, was due to make an appearance on the balcony of his presidential palace at 1600 local time (2030 GMT) Monday.

Crowds gathered outside the palace in anticipation, but the appointed time passed and it was not clear when he would appear.

The BBC's Juan Paullier at the scene said many supporters had waited as long as four hours to hear the president speak.

"We are delighted the president is home," said Vice-President Jaua earlier.

Some Chavez supporters in Caracas appeared on the streets cheering and singing as news of the president's unexpected return filtered out.

Supporter Pedro Alizu, 61, described it as "amazing".

"We wanted him here because he's the president of all Venezuelans. We didn't feel very secure the way things were," he said.

Supporters of Mr Chavez took to the streets to hail his return to Venezuela

There had been widespread speculation about Mr Chavez's health after he left Venezuela more than three weeks ago for what officials said was an operation on a pelvic abscess.

Last week he revealed he had also had surgery to remove a cancerous tumour. He said he was determined to win his health battle and was on the road to recovery.

Political observers speculated that he could be gone for months, and some questioned whether he could realistically return to office.

Although his return should calm much speculation, correspondents say it is still unclear how serious Mr Chavez's condition is or if he will need continued treatment that will leave him weak.

On Sunday, Cuba released photographs of Mr Chavez - who has been in power for 12 years - taking a short walk with his daughters Maria Gabriela and Rosa Virginia, and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro.

Mr Chavez's extended stay in Cuba led to the postponement of a regional summit scheduled for 5 July.

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