LATIN AMERICA

Chávez attacks death reports as he files re-election bid

Venezuelan opposition holds its biggest rally yet ahead of October race

Caracas / Havana -
Supporters surround a truck carrying Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as he makes his way to file his candidacy.
Supporters surround a truck carrying Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as he makes his way to file his candidacy.EDWIN MONTILVA (REUTERS)

Surrounded by a sea of red shirts and under a rain of colorful confetti, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on Monday formally registered his candidacy for his re-election bid for a third term.

The 57-year-old Chávez, who has undergone grueling medical treatments in Havana for cancer over the past year, including three operations, arrived at the doors of the National Electoral Council (CNE), a few blocks away from Miraflores presidential palace, where he was met by CNE president Tibisay Lucena.

Dressed in a jumper designed with the red, blue and yellow colors of the Venezuelan flag and wearing a red beret, a seemingly revitalized Chávez quickly dispelled rumors and reports that he was gravely ill.

They said Chávez had only days left, that Chávez was dying in Havana"

"Thanks to our Christ for this life because last year was a difficult one," he said. "We also had to face the psychological warfare from our adversaries. They said that Chávez had only days left, that Chávez was dying in Havana, that they were looking for a successor because he won't return. [...] I don't know how many morbid diagnoses they issued. But here I am before you, registering my candidacy for the 2013-2019 term," he told hundreds of thousands of supporters who accompanied him at a massive rally.

The large turnout approximately matched that of a march organized by the opposition on Sunday, when its candidate Henrique Capriles registered his candidacy after winning a primary campaign earlier this year. Although most national polls show that Chávez would win by between seven and 30 percent on October 7, opposition leaders say Capriles has 33 organizations - from radical left to center right groups - backing him while the Venezuelan leader is supported by 10 parties.

Capriles' march through Caracas was the first time since 2002 that the opposition - which until recently had been polarized - was able to reach the downtown center of the capital. In the past, pro-Chávez forces had prevented a fearful opposition from conducting any such marches. The Capriles rally was the biggest anti-Chávez showing since the presidential campaign kicked off.

Opposition leaders claim Capriles has 33 organizations backing him

"Today, more than one million people turned out; one million hearts," said the 39-year-old Capriles, who walked and jogged during Sunday's march. "I am a candidate because it was the people's decision, and on October 7, I will be elected president of all Venezuelans."

For his part, Chávez rode a red truck accompanied by his daughters, two brothers and several Cabinet members. As opposed to past campaigns when the once energetic president walked briskly to the CNE headquarters with his followers, the Venezuelan leader kept up a laggard pace. Chávez was slow getting off the truck but didn't appear to have any difficulties. "It is less than four months until the elections but we will have to work very hard," he said. "Let's not think that victory is ours - we will have to work for it."

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