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Thousands rally across Venezuela to support Chavez as he recovers from cancer surgery in Cuba
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) ' Thousands of supporters of Venezuela President Hugo Chavez held demonstrations across the country Saturday to show support for their leader while he recovers from cancer surgery in Cuba.
Demonstrators danced, beat drums and waved flags as they marched through the Venezuelan capital. Crowds of Chavez supporters also held simultaneous rallies in other cities.
In messages posted on Chavez's Twitter account, the president cheered on the demonstrators. One message said: "Let's go boys! Building the socialist homeland!" Another proclaimed: "I send all you my heart and my commitment to life and to Victory!"
The president has said a Feb. 26 surgery in Cuba removed a tumor from the same location in the pelvic region where another tumor was removed in June.
Leaders of Chavez's socialist party spoke to the crowds, expressing optimism that the president will fully recover and win re-election in October. They sought to counter any speculation that Chavez's health might get in the way of his re-election bid.
Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said Chavez's political movement is firmly unified in "one single bloc and one single current." He denounced government opponents as "fascists."
"We have one single plan ... Hugo Chavez is our candidate!" El Aissami said at a rally in western Trujillo state.
National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, another longtime ally of the president, led the crowd in chants of "Ooh-ah! Chavez isn't going away!"
"El Comandante is with us!" Cabello said. "There is no Plan B. ... El Comandante will come and will be the candidate of the revolution!"
At a rally in Caracas, Vice President Elias Jaua read aloud a message from Chavez that also appeared on Twitter, in which the president said he had a long conversation with Fidel Castro on Friday. "I told him about the youth march today, and he asked me to tell you how much he admires you. Viva Fidel!"
Some of the president's admirers held portraits of him.
Angel Lopez, an unemployed 22-year-old, said he isn't thinking of anyone else taking Chavez's place in the future.
"We have one leader, and that's El Comandante. ... We have faith he'll continue with us," Lopez said, adding that he thinks Chavez still has a great deal left to do in his drive toward socialism.
Chavez has said his cancer was first diagnosed during a visit to Cuba last June. He underwent four rounds of chemotherapy following initial surgeries last year, but announced in February that he was returning to Cuba for surgery to have a lesion removed.
Chavez has described the most recent tumor as measuring about 2 centimeters (0.8 inches) across. He has declined to identify the precise location or type of cancer.
Chavez plans to undergo radiation therapy treatment, although it's unclear how soon that will begin.
The 57-year-old leader, a former lieutenant colonel who was first elected president in 1998, is seeking another six-year term in the Oct. 7 vote. His rival, 39-year-old state governor Henrique Capriles, handily won a first-ever opposition presidential primary last month.
El Aissami said Chavez "will soon be together with the Venezuelan people in the streets."
Associated Press writer Ian James contributed to this report.