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Chavez supporters turn out in force

Thousands of supporters of Venezuela president Hugo Chavez have held demonstrations across the country 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, Caracas.

Crowds of Chavez supporters also held simultaneous rallies in other cities.

In messages posted on Mr 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 February 26 operation in Cuba removed a tumour from the same location in the pelvic region where another tumour was removed in June.

Leaders of Mr 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 Mr Chavez's health might get in the way of his re-election bid.

Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said Mr 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!" Mr El Aissami said at a rally in western Trujillo state.

National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, another long-time ally of the president, said: "El Comandante is with us!" Mr 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 Mr 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!"

Mr Chavez has said his cancer was first diagnosed during a visit to Cuba last June. He underwent four rounds of chemotherapy following initial operations last year, but announced in February that he was returning to Cuba for surgery to have a lesion removed.

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