Opposition march demands 'truth' about Chavez health

CARACAS (AFP) - Hundreds of opposition protesters marched in Caracas on Sunday, chanting "we want the truth" as they demanded that the government reveal more about the health of cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez.

Waving Venezuelan flags, the protesters rallied to a street where some 50 university students have staged a week-long sit-in to demand more transparency about Chavez's condition.

"We want to know what is going with Chavez's health, if he is alive or dead, and we want elections," said Dario Alberici, 55, a public accountant who was blowing on a plastic trumpet in the yellow, red and blue colors of Venezuela.

Government supporters held their own rally for Chavez in another part of the capital, chanting "Uh, ah! Chavez won't go!" Vice President Nicolas Maduro revealed Friday that the leftist leader is undergoing chemotherapy in a Caracas military hospital, but he says Chavez remains in charge.

In power for 14 years, the once omnipresent president has not emerged in public since undergoing cancer surgery in Cuba on December 11.

Chavez was first diagnosed with cancer in the pelvic region in June 2011, but the government has never disclosed its exact nature, severity or location.

"Nobody knows where he is," said Hector Gonzalez, a 70-year-old engineer.

"If he is recovering, they should show him. The country cannot continue in this uncertainty." Others said Venezuela was now under a "de facto" government as Chavez, who was re-elected in October, missed his January 10 swearing-in ceremony. The Supreme Court backed the inauguration's delay.

"We are in limbo, in a very uncertain, very illegitimate and very unconstitutional situation," Juan Pablo Baquero, 33, a lawyer and university professor.

When he left for Cuba on December 8, Chavez told Venezuelans to vote for Maduro if he became incapacitated and an election was called.

Across town, a few hundred pro-government students gathered in front of a stage featuring a huge photo of Chavez with one of his daughters and the phrase "Now with Chavez more than ever." "We are showing our love for the president," said Anaida Nunez, 30, who works in a government food program and wore a green T-shirt with the words "We are millions of Chavez." "We are rejecting this small group of young people who are sadly demanding that the president come out, when he's a human being receiving chemotherapy," she said.

"We don't need to see pictures. We know he's alive." The government has only released one set of photos of Chavez, showing him bedridden and smiling with his two daughters in a Havana hospital on February 15, three days before he returned to Caracas.

"He should recuperate, and when he feels strong he can come out in public," said Wilfredo Vazquez, 20, a law student at Central University of Venezuela.

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