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Venezuela's Chavez Scoffs at Health Emergency Rumors

Andrew Cawthorne

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez gestures as he speaks to the media before welcoming Bolivia's President Evo Morales at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas September 17, 2011 (photo: Reuters)

CARACAS - Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez on Thursday mocked a U.S. media report that he had been rushed to a hospital with kidney failure linked to the socialist leader's ongoing treatment for cancer.

"I'm fine, here having my first coffee of the day," a sprightly sounding Chavez, 57, said in one of his regular, lengthy dawn telephone calls to state TV.

"Those who don't love me and want me ill, well bad luck!"

The Miami-based El Nuevo Herald reported overnight that Chavez had been admitted to a military hospital in Caracas due to kidney failure that left him in a dangerous condition.

The president did not specify from where he was phoning, but insisted the latest rumors about his health were wrong.

"Last night, I heard a group of people were spreading rumors," said Chavez, who like his mentor Fidel Castro is now the subject of constant speculation over his well-being.

"We must stop the speculation. I ask the Venezuelan people to ignore these rumors. If anything happened, I'd be the first person to tell you about any difficulty. Nothing's happened beyond what's normal in the treatment process."

Chavez has completed four chemotherapy sessions after surgery in Cuba to remove a cancerous tumor earlier this year.

The former soldier says he is now recovering fully and will win a new six-year term in an election in 2012. He accuses his opponents of exploiting his illness for political gain.

"The rumors are part of their strategy, but they are going to founder against reality," Chavez said.


Information Minister Andres Izarra said it was irresponsible reporters, not his boss, who needed medical treatment. "The ones who should be admitted are the journalists of the Nuevo Herald, but to a madhouse," he said on Twitter.

Chavez has had to drastically cut a famously tough work schedule. Prior to his illness, he would frequently give speeches to the nation for up to six or seven hours, drink dozens of cups of coffee a day, and sleep just a few hours.

The president said he was working "at half-throttle" during his convalescence. He said that while rumors circulated about his health on Wednesday he had been meeting his foreign minister for a briefing on the U.N. meeting in New York.

Beyond Chavez, an inner circle of confidants and his doctors, very little is known about the president's precise condition, leading analysts and medical experts to speculate he may be putting a brave face on his treatment.

Chavez had cultivated an image of a robust, sports-loving leader, so while his sickness has given him a small sympathy bounce in opinion polls, it has also threatened to dent an aura of invincibility he has built up during 13 years in power.

(Additional reporting by Mario Naranjo; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Will Dunham)

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