Chavez suffering from complications from surgery

CARACAS (AFP) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is suffering from complications arising from a "severe pulmonary infection", more than three weeks after undergoing cancer surgery, Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said.

"This infection has led to a respiratory insufficiency that requires that comandante Chavez strictly fulfill the medical treatment," Mr Villegas said in a national broadcast.

The announcement came amid growing demands at home for more detailed information about the president's health and whether he will be fit to take the oath of office on Jan 10.

Mr Chavez has not been seen in public since he underwent a long and complicated surgery 23 days ago for a recurrence of cancer, and officials have acknowledged that his recovery has been difficult.

On Wednesday, Bolivia's President Evo Morales, a close friend and ally of the 58-year-old Venezuelan leader, said he had spoken to his family and his condition was "very worrying."

Mr Chavez, who was re-elected on Oct 7 despite the debilitating battle with cancer and the strongest opposition challenge yet to his 14-year rule, is supposed to take office in a week for another six-year term.

But it is still unclear whether the long-time leader of Venezuela, which has the world's largest proven oil reserves, would be fit enough to serve.