By Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's convalescing President Hugo Chavez laughed off talk of succession on Wednesday and said his enemies were engaging in speculation that his cancer diagnosis was made up to boost his popularity.
"They say I'm putting on a show; it's they who are putting on a macabre show," said Chavez in another TV appearance that has marked a growing public presence since two trips to Cuba for surgery to remove a cancerous tumor and then chemotherapy.
The ever-theatrical Chavez loudly patted his stomach to show he was not wearing a colostomy bag, responding to one theory doing the rounds that his problems are intestinal.
Though no leading opposition figures have publicly suggested Chavez's version of his cancer is untrue, precise medical details have been scarce, and Venezuelans have been endlessly speculating about what condition the president has.
Some in the most radical anti-Chavez circles have been muttering that the cancer story is a ploy to boost his popularity ahead of 2012 when he plans to seek re-election in the South American OPEC member he has dominated for 12 years.
"Some of the spokesmen for the squalid ones, the counter-revolution, the right wing, capitalism and the empire ... first they were celebrating because Chavez was dying," he said, laughing. "Now they say I'm making it up."
In a buoyant mood ahead of his 57th birthday on Thursday, Chavez also mocked another topic of national speculation: who might replace him if he becomes incapacitated.
"Hey Adan, you look well-shaven, dressed up, I can see you're preparing for the succession," he said in a TV linkup with his older brother Adan, a governor of Barinas state who has been something of an ideological mentor to the president.
"I'LL WIN IN 2012"
Some have also said that Chavez's daughter, Maria Gabriela, who is an unofficial First Lady, could be a possible successor.
"Don't mess with my daughter," Chavez said. "I am the candidate for the 2012 elections and I'm going to win again."
In a flurry of TV and radio appearances, plus brief attendances at public ceremonies, Chavez has sought in recent days to show he remains firmly in control of government, is recovering well and will be fit to run for re-election.
"Fortunately, among all the scenarios, we're seeing the best one, the best recovery scenario," he said, adding that second and third chemotherapy sessions awaited him soon.
Chavez has said he must delegate more and tone down his famously obsessive and micromanaging style of leadership.
But the somber and self-reflective tone of his first days after announcing the cancer -- when he chided himself for neglecting his health and said he had seen the "abyss" -- seem to be giving way to his old folksy and bombastic style.
(Additional reporting by Enrique Andres Pretel and Diego Ore)