|In power since 1999, Chavez, centre, is running for a third six-year term in the October 7 presidential election [AFP]|
Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, has said by phone that he will return home this week after cancer treatment in Cuba, in an apparent bid to quash rumours fanned by a nine-day silence that he had died in Havana.
The 57-year-old leader also said he would need to return to Cuba for another round of radiation and tests.
“I should be there in Caracas, God willing, on April 26,” Chavez told state television VTV on Monday, in a telephone call that marked the first time Venezuelans had heard his voice live on state media in more than a week.
“It’s tough,” he said. “Just ask anyone who has had radiation therapy about the effects it has. [But] I am pretty far along in the radiation sessions.”
Andres Izarra, Venezuela’s information minister, later published several photos on the Twitter, the microblogging site, showing Chavez wearing a track suit and standing in a garden with his daughter Rosa Virginia and other family members.
Another photo showed him throwing a weighted ball in a game of bolas criollas, a traditional Venezuelan sport similar to bocce.
Since arriving in Havana last week for what was earlier described as a final round of radiation therapy, Chavez only communicated via Twitter and written statements, with no television appearances.
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The last new message on his Twitter feed appeared on Saturday.
Some critics suggested the leftist president had taken a turn for the worse, and criticised what they called his ruling from abroad by tweet.
“We’ll just have to get used to rumours flying, especially in the coming months,” Chavez said, attributing them to “the bourgeois strategy of the Venezuelan right”.
Chavez had surgery in late February in Havana after a recurrence of the cancer he was originally diagnosed with last year.
He has been undergoing treatment after the removal of a malignant tumour in the same area of his pelvis where another such tumour was removed in June 2011.
Officials in Caracas have never specified the type of cancer Chavez has or exactly where it is, but insist it has not spread to other organs.
In power since 1999, Chavez is running for a third six-year term in the October 7 presidential election. He faces a tough challenge from the united opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.
Chavez is the most prominent face of the left in Latin America. He has led and rallied a group of leftist governments that he organised as a counterweight to the US.
Though polls show him leading Capriles ahead of the election, Chavez is battling public fatigue with his “socialist revolution,” an unstable economy with soaring inflation, and rampant street crime.