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Chavez vows to win cancer battle

world Updated: Jul 05, 2011 08:22 IST

Venezuela's ever-theatrical President Hugo Chavez made a surprise homecoming on Monday after cancer surgery in Cuba, thrilling supporters and saying he would win the battle to regain his health.

But he told a crowd of thousands gathered outside the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas he still needed to submit to "strict" medical treatment.

After an overnight flight home, Chavez, 56, rested at his palace during the day then greeted supporters from the balcony where he has appeared during some of the biggest moments of his rule, including after he survived a short-lived 2002 coup.

"Long live life, long live Chavez!" the president, wearing a green military uniform and a red paratrooper's beret, told thousands of delirious fans.

Before speaking, he waved a large Venezuelan flag from the balcony and made the Christian sign of the cross as supporters chanted "Ooo, aaa, Chavez is here to stay."

"I have to submit to a strict medical and scientific control," he said, adding: "Let nobody think that my presence here today, July 4, means that we have won the battle".

"I swear that we will win the battle".

Chavez's return changes the political dynamics once again in Venezuela, where politicians on all sides had been bracing for a protracted months-long absence of the man who has dominated the OPEC member nation since taking power in 1999.

The unpredictable, populist Chavez, who has nationalized vast swaths of the economy and led anti-US sentiment in Latin America, jetted in just in time for two days of celebrations of Venezuela's 200th anniversary of independence from Spain.

"He wanted to prevent the situation from unraveling," US analyst Michael Shifter said.

"The bicentennial was too compelling an occasion to miss ... it was politically irresistible."

With their 'comandante' back on Venezuelan soil, elated supporters took to the streets of Caracas all day, chanting: "He's back! He's back!"

Local media have speculated Chavez could be about to shake up his cabinet, quoting vice President Elias Jaua as saying Chavez would organize his team "for the new stage to come."

Many Venezuelans had thought Chavez's convalescence after two operations last month in Cuba -- one to remove a cancerous tumor -- would keep him in Havana for weeks, possibly months.

"I'm fine. I feel well," Chavez said on arrival.

"I'm back at the epicenter of Bolivar," he added, in reference to his idol, Simon Bolivar, a hero of Venezuela's and South America's fight for independence from Spanish rule.

Inspired by Bolivar, Chavez has boosted state control over the oil industry, created restrictions on currency exchange, and launched state takeovers of companies ranging from cement makers to producers of glass bottles and toilets.