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Venezuela's Chavez creates agency to watch prices
Hugo Chavez creates new government agency to monitor prices in Venezuela
By The Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) ' Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has signed a decree creating a new state authority to oversee prices. He says the authority will prevent businesses from overcharging.

Chavez signed the decree in a televised Cabinet meeting Thursday and created what he called the National Integrated System of Administration of Prices.

The leftist leader says the new agency will ensure "fair prices" and prevent "speculation."

Chavez also vows to accelerate his government's socialist-inspired programs despite his recent cancer diagnosis.

Venezuela is struggling with inflation of more than 23 percent. The government already maintains price controls on many basic food products.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) ' Ailing President Hugo Chavez rallied hundreds of supporters in a Caracas plaza on Thursday, singing folk songs and calling cancer one of his life's greatest battles.

Chavez wore fatigues and the red beret from his days as an army paratroop commander. After a flag-raising ceremony and a brief speech, he joined a Venezuelan joropo band in singing songs from the rural plains where he grew up.

"Long live the plains!" Chavez said with a smile.

His speech in Plaza Bolivar followed several days in which he appeared before smaller groups at Caracas' Military Academy or spoke to the nation on television.

Chavez has been keeping up near-daily appearances on television since returning to Venezuela on July 4, two weeks after undergoing surgery in Cuba to remove a cancerous tumor from his pelvic region. He has kept his speeches shorter than usual, saying he is under strict doctors' orders.

He revealed on Wednesday for the first time that he expects to undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

"I'm facing one of the biggest battles of my life," Chavez told the crowd Thursday. "With the grace of God we will also win it."

Three hours after his appearance in the plaza, Chavez was on television again at a Cabinet meeting, wearing glasses while reading the country's 1811 declaration of independence.

He also repeated his regular denunciations of capitalism and discussed plans for government farming programs.

Chavez drank a single cup of coffee, saying he has cut back drastically from the dozens of cups he used to consume in a single day.

"I've freed myself from an addiction," Chavez told his Cabinet ministers.

Chavez also paused at 3 p.m., saying it was time for him to take a pill. He held up half a pill in his fingers without saying what it was and swallowed it by downing a glass of water brought to him by a woman wearing a white medical robe. "Iron discipline, I take the pill," Chavez said.

In his outdoor speech, Chavez called for an "eternal revolution" while vowing to push ahead with his socialist-inspired Bolivarian Revolution movement, which is named after 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar.

"The Bolivarian Revolution, the socialist revolution... will never again leave here," said Chavez, who is up for re-election in 2012.

He and government officials have not said what type of cancer is involved. Chavez has said a tumor the size of a baseball was removed.

Supporters clapped and cheered for Chavez during Thursday's ceremony, which was part of the country's bicentennial celebrations. Chavez raised the flag over the plaza in downtown Caracas while the national anthem was played.

Chavez's unannounced appearance was broadcast live on all of the country's television and radio stations. The government regularly takes over the airwaves under what is called a "national network" for events deemed important.

"I wanted to come here to accompany you physically because these days I've been accompanying you ... with my spirit, with my soul rather than my body, for the reasons you all know," Chavez told the crowd.

An announcer at the plaza told the crowd: "Long live El Comandante Hugo Chavez!"

The crowd responded with chants of: "Onward commander!"

The president waved and blew a kiss to the crowd. He shouted: "I will live, we will live, for the homeland!"

Chavez was scheduled to meet with Peru's president-elect, Ollanta Humala, on Friday. Humala's party announced plans for the visit, which had been delayed while Chavez was recovering in Cuba.

In the past week, Chavez's Twitter account has been active with several messages posted each day, and he has appeared on television leading a Cabinet meeting, addressing troops and attending Mass.

He said Wednesday that his post-operation recovery has been going well, but he expects that radiation therapy or chemotherapy may eventually be necessary.

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