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Chavez 'improving after surgery'

Allies of president Hugo Chavez have assured Venezuelans the leftist leader is firmly in control of the country and improving after emergency surgery in Cuba, comments meant to dampen speculation about his health.

Pro-Chavez politician Cilia Flores told state television that Mr Chavez "is fulfilling all of the responsibilities" under the constitution, and said she had spoken to him earlier in the day.

"He's energetically giving us instructions," she said.

Information minister Andres Izarra told Union Radio that Mr Chavez is recovering, adding: "We hope to have him here soon." Mr Izarra joked that some government opponents, particularly those speculating about the president's health, are suffering from what he called "Chavez abstinence syndrome".

Defence minister Carlos Mata Figueroa, meanwhile, told the state-run newspaper Ciudad Caracas that Chavez is "genuinely recovering" following surgery for a pelvic abscess on June 10. He said Venezuela's military "is asking God for his quick recovery".

Mata Figueroa, an army general, said soldiers are eager to see Mr Chavez return to Venezuela before celebrations on July 5 marking the 200th anniversary of the South American nation's independence from Spain.

Opposition leaders have accused Mr Chavez of failing to fully inform Venezuelans about his health, saying the president's condition should not be shrouded in secrecy.

Despite assurances from top government officials and close relatives that the 56-year-old is recuperating, the president's silence and seclusion since the operation have spurred growing speculation he might be seriously ill.

Nobody has heard Chavez speak publicly since he told Venezuelan state television by telephone two days after his surgery that he was quickly recovering. He said medical tests had showed no sign of any "malignant" illness. It remains unclear when he will return to Venezuela.

A pelvic abscess is an accumulation of pus that can have various causes, including infection or surgical complications.

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