Venezuela's Chavez finishes third chemo session

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 02, 2011 8:09 PM
Venezuela's Chavez finishes third chemo session

By Kevin Gray

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ended a third round of chemotherapy on Friday, saying he "couldn't feel better" as he led a caravan to the presidential palace cheered on by thousands of supporters.

Wearing a red beret and an olive green military uniform, Chavez stood up through the sunroof of a sport utility vehicle and waved to crowds lining the streets after he completed a cancer treatment session at a Caracas hospital.

"I'm very motivated, with my soul full of life and my body too," the 57-year-old socialist leader said, adding, "I couldn't feel better."

Chavez checked into the Military Hospital on Saturday for his latest session of chemotherapy, instead of traveling to Cuba where he underwent two earlier rounds.

The decision to stay at home could be a sign the former soldier is growing more optimistic about the pace of his recovery before a presidential election next year.

It also undermined criticism by the opposition, which had accused him of putting national security at risk by governing from a hospital bed in Havana during his previous visits to the communist-led Caribbean island.

During his treatment in Caracas, Chavez sought to demonstrate he was fully involved in running the country. He often phoned state TV to comment on current affairs and update viewers about his routine.

Groups of Chavez supporters had held vigils outside the hospital, waving portraits of the former coup leader, singing songs and praying for his swift recovery.

Chavez has not said what kind of he cancer he has, meaning assessments of his condition, and the possibility of remission, remain mostly speculation.

He had surgery in Havana in June to remove a baseball-sized tumor, then returned to Cuba twice as the guest of his friend and mentor, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Chavez has vowed to win a new six-year term in next year's presidential race, which Venezuela's fractious opposition coalition sees as its best chance to unseat him since he came to power 12 years ago.

They will face the biggest test of their unity yet at primary elections in February to pick a candidate who will face Chavez in the presidential election.

(Additional reporting by Diego Ore and Mario Naranjo; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)