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Venezuela VP says Chavez 'conscious'

Nicolas Maduro dispels rumours that cancer-stricken president is in coma and says he has "the same strength as always".
Last Modified: 02 Jan 2013 13:15

Venezuela's vice-president has said that President Hugo Chavez, who underwent surgery for cancer in Cuba for a fourth time, is "completely conscious of the complexity of his post-operative state". 

In a televised interview in Cuba, Maduro said he had met Chavez twice and that the president seemed to have "the same strength as always". 

Maduro's comments came amid rumours, some of which circulated online, that Chavez's health had deteriorated and that he was in coma. 

"All the time we've been hoping for his positive evolution. Sometimes he has had light improvements, sometimes stationary situations," Maduro said in the prerecorded interview, which was broadcast on Tuesday night by the Caracas-based television network Telesur. 

"I was able to see him twice, converse with him. He's totally conscious of the complexity of his post-operative state and he expressly asked us ... to keep the nation informed always, always with the truth, as hard as it may be in certain circumstances," said Maduro who was handpicked by the president before he travelled for Cuba for his latest round of surgery. 

Maduro, who is returning to Venezuela on Wednesday, did not discuss the January 10 inauguration plans for the president who won re-election last October, saying only that he was hopeful Chavez would improve.

The news may help dispel rumours that Maduro's visit was a sign that the former soldier was near death. 

Supporters and opponents of Chavez alike nervously welcomed the new year on Tuesday, left on edge by shifting signals from the government about their leader's condition three weeks after cancer surgery in Cuba. 

Venezuelans put on fireworks displays as they entered the new year, but some of Chavez's supporters had long faces as they gathered in Bolivar Plaza on Monday night holding pictures of the president. 

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A government-sponsored New Year's Eve celebration in the plaza had been called off, and instead his supporters strummed guitars and read poetry in Chavez's honour. 

Chavez's son-in-law, who also serves as science minister, on Monday said the president, who has never said what type of cancer he has, was in stable condition and urged Venezuelans to ignore rumours of his impending death. 

Chavez has not been seen or heard from since the December 11 operation, and officials have variously reported his condition as "stable" and "delicate". 

On Sunday Maduro announced the president had new complications from a respiratory infection which put him in a "delicate" state. 

Speculation has grown since Maduro announced those latest troubles, which were a sharp shift from his remark nearly a week earlier that the president had been up and walking. 

In Tuesday's interview, Maduro did not provide any new details about Chavez's complications. But he joined other Chavez allies in urging Venezuelans to ignore gossip, saying rumors are being spread due to "the hatred of the enemies of Venezuela." 

Political opponents of Chavez have complained that the government has not told the country nearly enough about his health.

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