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Top brass pledges loyalty to Chavez

Venezuela's military high command reaffirmed its loyalty to President Hugo Chavez in a public show of support a day after Mr Chavez's departure for Cuba to undergo surgery removing a possibly cancerous tumour.

Military leaders said they were praying for Mr Chavez's health and were confident of a full recovery.

"With you, everything; without you, nothing," Navy Admiral Anibal Brito said during a ceremony in the port of La Guaira to inaugurate a naval training vessel named after independence leader Simon Bolivar.

Military officers have used the phrase in the past to signal allegiance to Mr Chavez, who is scheduled to have his third operation since last June, when a baseball-size tumour was removed from his pelvic region.

The leftist president was given a clean bill of health last fall and had declared himself cancer-free, but last week Cuban doctors found a new, smaller growth in the same part of his body. Mr Chavez has said the growth is probably malignant but has not revealed what kind of cancer he has.

During 13 years in power, Mr Chavez has sought to shore up support in the military from the rank-and-file up to the high command, mindful of the country's history of coups d'etats.

Mr Chavez himself led a failed coup in 1992 that catapulted him into the public consciousness and paved the way for his election in 1998. He survived an unsuccessful putsch against his own presidency in 2002.

In recent days, he has accused his political rivals of intending to spread rumours of discontent and division within the military during his absence from the country, and trying to stir intrigue about his health in an election year in which he is seeking a fourth term.

The presence of the military high command and vice president Elias Jaua at the ceremony sent a message of unity. "Today our commander in chief is here with us," defence minister and General Henry Silva told cadets scheduled to sail on the Simon Bolivar. "His spirit as a revolutionary soldier is here."

Mr Chavez, 57, flew to staunch ally Cuba on Friday after travelling by motorcade through the capital of Caracas.


From Belfast Telegraph