Supporters of President Hugo Chavez shaved their heads in solidarity with their leader's struggle against cancer on Sunday as hundreds prayed and sang at a televised event.
Barbers shaved off the hair of several men and at least one woman while the crowd swayed to a religious song. Chavez, who shaved his head after starting to lose his hair due to chemotherapy, smiled and waved to the crowd.
"We're Christians. Christ unites us," Chavez said in a speech, noting that others had decided to join him and "change their look."
Chavez said he may undergo a third round of chemotherapy but expressed optimism that the worst of his illness has passed.
"I no longer feel sick but rather that I'm convalescing from the illness I had," Chavez said.
Those attending included a group of six from the Dominican Republic who shaved their heads in a show of support outside the Venezuelan Embassy in their country on Friday. Chavez greeted the Dominicans with hugs and stood arm-in-arm with them.
He also grew emotional as he recalled meeting a young cancer victim who gave him a Venezuelan flag some time ago. He said the girl's name was Genesis, and she had an advanced brain tumor. He said she had approached him at an event and given him the flag.
"She told me, 'Chavez, I'm going. I know I'm going ... In this flag, Chavez, I'll stay with you,'" Chavez said, his voice cracking and his eyes tearing up for a moment.
Chavez embraced the flag and vowed to survive. "It's time to live," he said.
Chavez returned from his latest round of chemotherapy in Cuba on Aug. 14.
He underwent surgery in Cuba in June that removed a cancerous tumor from his pelvic region. He has not specified where the tumor was located. He has said the chemotherapy has been going well and aims to ensure no malignant cells reappear.
Chavez bowed his head during a prayer and later clapped along with the music. Young men with close-cropped hair stood in the crowd as shouts of "Hallelujah!" and "Amen!" rose at the end of a song.
The Venezuelan president defended his practice of providing the public with updates on his medical condition rather than having one of his doctors release reports.
He said his political opponents "are crazy to find out who my doctors are."
"I'm not going to expose my doctors to the ridicule," Chavez said, adding that his opponents "would be capable of anything."
Associated Press writer Patricia Rondon Espin contributed to this report.
Ian James on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ianjamesap