Chavez plays ball, mocks health scare

CARACAS,  (Reuters) – Venezuela’s ever-theatrical  socialist leader Hugo Chavez sought to display his vigour yesterday by playing ball on his palace grounds after mocking a  U.S. media report that he was having emergency treatment.

“I’m fine. Those who don’t love me and wish me ill, well  bad luck!” a sprightly sounding Chavez said in the latest of  his regular dawn calls to state TV.

Wearing a bright red training top and a cap, the  57-year-old later called cameras to the Miraflores presidential  palace where he tossed a baseball back and forth with aides. “This is part of a morbid, rude campaign,” Chavez — who  like his mentor Fidel Castro is now the subject of constant  conjecture about his well-being — told reporters at the  palace, clutching reports about his supposed health scare.

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

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

The former soldier has shaved off his hair and shows  swelling in the face, but says he is now recovering fully and  will win a new six-year term at an election in 2012. He accuses  his opponents of exploiting his illness for political gain.

“The rumours are part of their strategy, but they are going  to founder against reality,” Chavez said.

“We must stop the speculation. I ask the Venezuelan people  to ignore these rumours. 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.”

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 was being briefed by his foreign  minister 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.

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