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Chavez returns to Venezuela from Cuba surgery

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has returned home nearly three weeks after undergoing cancer surgery in Cuba.

Chavez's return on Friday should reassert his leadership, calm anxiety among supporters and quell whispers of a brewing succession struggle behind the scenes.

Chavez smiled and waved as he stepped off the plane at Caracas' international airport and walked down the stairs hand-in-hand with a daughter and his mother. Soldiers stood at attention on the tarmac.

In a sign that the socialist leader was looking healthy enough to appear in public, officials called press photographers and cameramen to Maiquetia international airport, on the coast outside Caracas, to witness Chavez's arrival.

Chavez has kept secret some details of his illness, such as the type of cancer, spurring speculation about how his cancer might affect the country's political landscape. So big questions remain as to whether he is fit enough to campaign for an October 7 election that has turned into the biggest political fight of his 13-year rule.

More cancer treatment

The president has said a February 26 surgery in Cuba removed a tumor from the same location in the pelvic region where another tumor was removed in June. He has said he is recovering smoothly.

Chavez has said his cancer was first diagnosed during a visit to Cuba last June. An initial surgery in June removed a tumor the size of a baseball.

He underwent four rounds of chemotherapy following initial surgeries last year, but announced in February that he was returning to Cuba for surgery to have a lesion removed.

Chavez has described the most recent tumor as measuring about 2 centimeters (0.8 inches) across. He has declined to identify the precise location of the cancer. He next plans to undergo radiation therapy, although it's unclear how soon that will begin.

The 57-year-old leader is running for re-election this year, seeking another six-year term in the October national elections. His rival, 39-year-old state governor Henrique Capriles, has criticized Chavez's handling of his cancer, saying that if he were president his health would "be a matter of public knowledge."

The president sought to keep up with government business while in Cuba. Last weekend, his Cabinet ministers were in Havana for a televised meeting where Chavez reviewed government projects ranging from subway expansion work to public housing complexes.

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