On coup anniversary, Chavez health said to be 'improving'

CARACAS (AFP) - Venezuela's National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello marked Monday's anniversary of a 1992 coup attempt led by Hugo Chavez by assuring that the cancer-stricken president is "improving every day."

Mr Cabello also warned that any attempt to "cross the lines and instructions of commander Chavez will be paid back by the people." That double message came in a speech to a military audience commemorating the 21st anniversary of the failed military uprising against then president Carlos Andres Perez.

Mr Chavez, then a young paratrooper, was sent to prison but was pardoned two years later and elected president in 1999. Now a prolonged bout with cancer has raised uncertainty about his condition and political future.

"Commander Chavez is on his way to recovery, improving every day, signing what we take him, giving instructions, giving orders, concerned about the people," said Mr Cabello.

Mr Cabello returned on Sunday from a visit with Mr Chavez, who is convalescing in Havana after a fourth round of cancer surgery that has been followed by complications.

In Havana, Cuban leader Fidel Castro said on Sunday that the 58-year-old Chavez was doing "much better." "It has been a tough struggle but he has been improving," Castro said in comments carried by the official Granma newspaper, adding: "We have to cure him. Chavez is very important for his country and for Latin America."

The Venezuelan president, an anti-US firebrand who often commandeered his country's airwaves for hours at a time, has not been seen or heard from since he arrived in Cuba on Dec10 for the surgery.

He was too sick to attend his own inauguration to a new six-year term on Jan 10, which prompted the government to indefinitely postpone his swearing in while extending him and his current administration in office.

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