Hugo Chávez says cancer returned, names successor

Leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has admitted a relapse of his cancer and designated vice-president Nicolas Maduro as his heir apparent in case "something happened" to him.

Speaking on national television Saturday, an emotional Chavez said a return of cancer cells was detected during his most recent visit to Cuba for medical examination, and he will return to the communist-ruled island as early as Monday for another round of surgery.

Chavez did not offer details, but his cancer was first detected in the pelvic area. Neither the Venezuelan leader nor his Cuban doctors have ever disclosed what kind of cancer that was.

However, Chavez admitted that his medical team had conveyed to him a sense of urgency about the forthcoming operation, which he said was "absolutely necessary."

"The doctor recommended that I undergo surgery Friday at the latest, or this weekend," he acknowledged. "But I did not agree and came back home."

Chavez returned from Havana on Friday after a 10-day stay in Cuba. He had not been seen in public for three weeks.

The Venezuelan leader also said in the event he were incapacitated, his vice-president Nicolas Maduro would step in and assume control of the government as required by the constitution.

But he also indicated he would like Maduro to replace him if something more serious were to occur and a new presidential election was called. "You choose Maduro as president of the republic," said Chavez addressing the Venezuelan people. "I am asking you this from all my heart."

The firebrand leader made the announcement despite frequent assurances on the campaign trail before his re-election in October that he had been cured of cancer.

Recurring bouts of cancer have dogged Chavez's presidency for the past couple of years, requiring to him spends weeks at a time being treated in Cuba.

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