In Brief

Hugo Chavez 'clings to life' as successor jostles for power

'Bleak' update on the president's condition comes as his nominated successor Maduro begins electioneering

hugo-chavez-hospital-050313.jpg

VENEZUELAN president Hugo Chavez is battling a "severe" new respiratory infection as he receives chemotherapy at a Caracas military hospital and struggles to recover from cancer surgery.

The 58-year-old returned a fortnight ago after two months of treatment in Cuba. He has not been seen in public this year though photos were released in mid-February showing two daughters at his bedside in Havana.

Last week the government was forced to deny reports that he had died, blaming the rumour on "far-right fascists" who wanted to destabilise the country.

The opposition, angered by the president's prolonged absence from office, organised protests in the Venezuelan capital at the weekend demanding that the government release "the truth" about the socialist leader's condition.

In response yesterday, the government insisted that Chavez was still ruling the country from his hospital bed, but admitted that his condition was now "very delicate".

"Today there is a worsening of his respiratory function, related to his depressed immune system. There is now a new, severe infection," said information minister Ernesto Villegas. "The commander-president remains clinging to Christ and to life."

The New York Times said the update was "one of the bleakest" since Chavez was diagnosed with an unspecified cancer in 2011. Since then he has had surgery four times.

As the Daily Telegraph reports, Chavez's government "has never disclosed the exact nature, location or severity of the cancer, saying only that it was in the pelvic region".

Venezuela possesses the world's largest proven oil reserves. Chavez has already chosen his successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who insists that Chavez is "in good spirits" though breathing with the aid of a tracheal tube.

Chavez was re-elected president in October last year but was unable to attend his January inauguration. If he dies or stands down, a new election will pit Maduro standing against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.

The Washington Post reports that the campaigning has already begun, with Maduro "frequently commandeering all broadcast channels Chavez-style to tout the 'revolution' and vilify the opposition".

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