Hugo Chavez suffers new complications in cancer fight

Hugo Chavez

President Hugo Chavez's new complications after cancer surgery prompted his closest allies to call for Venezuelans to pray for him on Monday, presenting an increasingly bleak outlook and prompting growing speculation about whether the ailing leader has much longer to live.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro looked weary and spoke with a solemn expression as he announced in a televised address from Havana on Sunday that Chavez now confronts "new complications'' due to a respiratory infection nearly three weeks after his operation. He described Chavez's condition as delicate.

The streets of Caracas were abuzz on Monday with talk of Chavez's increasingly tough fight, while the news topped the front pages of the country's newspapers.

"He's history now,'' said Cesar Amaro, a street vendor selling newspapers and snacks at a kiosk in downtown Caracas. He motioned to a daily on the rack showing side-by-side photos of Maduro and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, and said politics will now turn to them.

Amaro said he expects a new election soon to replace Chavez. "For an illness like the one the president has, his days are numbered now,'' he said matter-of-factly.

In Bolivar Plaza in downtown Caracas, Chavez's supporters strummed guitars and read poetry in his honor on New Year's Eve. They sang along with a recording of the president belting out the national anthem.

About 300 people filled a Caracas church for a Mass to pray for Chavez.

"This country would be terrible without Chavez. He's the president of the poor,'' said Josefa Carvajal, a 75-year-old former maid who sat in the pews. "They say the president is very sick. I believe he's going to get better.''

The president's aides held a Mass at the presidential palace, while government officials urged Venezuelans to keep their president in their prayers.

Political analyst Ricardo Sucre said the outlook for Chavez appears grim, saying Maduro's body language during his televised appearance spoke volumes.

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