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Chavez defiant at birthday party

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez celebrated his 57th birthday on Thursday and vowed to overcome cancer and remain in power for two more decades.

Speaking to a crowd of supporters from a balcony of the presidential palace, Mr Chavez said he expects to lose his hair soon as a result of chemotherapy and that his cancer treatments will continue for months. But he said he will be ready to run for re-election in 2012.

"I invite you all to celebrate my 77th," Mr Chavez told his cheering supporters. "I had said I'd leave in 2021. Well, I'm not going away in 2021 or anything. Maybe in 2031."

He waved a large Venezuelan flag on the balcony, then sang and swayed while a band below playing folk music. He saluted to the crowd and blew kisses while hundreds of supporters cheered and pumped fists in the air.

As for his cancer treatment, he said: "This is going to be various months all of this year, but I'm going to continue in charge of my government functions."

"And next year, we will win the presidential elections once again! Strength, unity!" Mr Chavez said. Setting a goal he has never before reached, he said: "We're going for 10 million votes next year!"

The crowd chanted "Oh, no! Chavez won't go!"

He said earlier on state television that he should be finished with the most difficult phase of his cancer treatments by December, when he hopes to host a summit of Latin American leaders in Caracas.

He said he has sent letters inviting Latin American and Caribbean leaders to the summit in Caracas on December 9. That meeting had originally been scheduled for July 5-6 but was postponed due to Mr Chavez's illness.

Around the country, Chavez's supporters held a series of televised events honouring his birthday. A group of children sang for him and blew out a candle on a cake. Supporters danced to live music in a Caracas plaza and the president's older brother, Adan, led a crowd singing "Happy Birthday".


From Belfast Telegraph