Hugo Chavez 'battling for his life', says VP Maduro
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is "battling for his health, for his life", his deputy Nicolas Maduro says.
"Our commander is sick because he gave his life for those who don't have anything," he said on Venezuelan TV.
Mr Chavez has not been seen in public since he had further cancer surgery in Cuba in December and is reported to have a severe a respiratory infection.
The government has previously said Mr Chavez, now back in Venezuela, is running the country from the hospital.
Mr Chavez, who has been in office for 14 years, is believed to have cancer in his pelvic area but his exact illness has never been disclosed.
He was re-elected for another six-year term in October 2012, but the Supreme Court ruled that his swearing-in could be delayed because of his illness.
Speaking on Thursday, Mr Maduro said the president "didn't take care of his health because he gave his body and soul" to the people.
"He's battling for his life, for his health, and we are there with him," he said.'Lies and nastiness'
Mr Maduro, who has been named by President Chavez as his preferred successor, said the treatment was in a "complex and difficult stage".
It is a waiting and watching game in Caracas - waiting for concrete news about President Hugo Chavez; watching should an election be needed to choose his successor.
The government has insisted that Mr Chavez is still running the country, albeit from his hospital bed.
The majority seem to accept this. A recent opinion poll found that 57% of Venezuelans believe Mr Chavez will recover, but 30% think he will not return to office.
Amid the uncertainty, opposition parties have been in talks to select a single candidate should a snap poll be called.
Whoever they choose would face Vice-President Nicolas Maduro, Mr Chavez's own choice to be his successor.
The government has said that Mr Chavez, who is breathing with the help of a tracheal tube, is writing orders and meeting senior ministers from his sickbed at a military hospital in Caracas.
Mr Chavez returned from Cuba in mid-February, sending a series of celebratory tweets thanking his Cuban hosts for their help and his fellow Venezuelans for their support.
The week before, images were released of him smiling in his hospital bed during a visit from his daughters, but little has been heard of him since.
Government officials have spoken before of Mr Chavez's "great battle" for life but Mr Maduro's latest comment comes amid an upsurge in rumours and speculation about the president's health.
Mr Maduro said "lies and nastiness on Twitter and Facebook" were the work of a "small and venomous minority".
President Chavez announced in June 2011 that he had cancer and has undergone four operations since then, as well as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.