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Venezuela rivals launch campaigns

Venezuela's presidential campaign has officially began with President Hugo Chavez and opposition leader Henrique Capriles rallying their supporters for what promises to be a hard-fought contest leading up to the October vote.

Mr Chavez wore his red beret, waving and blowing kisses as he greeted crowds of supporters from atop a truck that rolled from north-central Carabobo state to the nearby city of Maracay, where he spoke from a stage.

"The Bolivarian hurricane has started!" Mr Chavez told a crowd, referring to his leftist movement, the Bolivarian Revolution. "We're going to pulverise them!"

Mr Capriles started his campaign with rallies in opposite ends of the country, in south-eastern Bolivar state and in western Zulia state.

"The one who's in power, he's only interested in something, and that's staying in power," Mr Capriles told supporters in Bolivar state. "I'm part of a new leadership. ... I'm here to look for solutions to your problems."

Mr Capriles wore an indigenous headband adorned with feathers as he promised to help the country's indigenous minority, saying they have long been neglected by the government. He also promised to fight violent crime and inflation.

Mr Chavez has been in office since 1999 and is seeking another six-year term in the October 7 election.

The 57-year-old president is starting his campaign after months of cancer treatment that have created uncertainty about his political future.

Last week, Mr Chavez reiterated that he had undergone tests after his latest radiation therapy in Cuba and is doing well.

"The results were all positive," Mr Chavez said. He added, in an apparent reference to further cancer treatments, that "at this time, on the horizon I see ... I don't expect any of that".

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