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Chavez Leading Venezuela from Cuba Following Cancer Surgery

Image from video shown on Cuban state television shows Cuba's Fidel Castro, (l) speaking with Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez in an unknown location in Havana, June 28, 2011

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is meeting with several of his government ministers Saturday in Cuba, where he is recovering from surgery to remove a cancerous tumor.

News reports say President Chavez planned to discuss government projects with the leaders. Venezuela's energy minister was among the cabinet members expected to be present for the talks.

The president's health has raised concerns of a political vacuum in Venezuela, but Venezuelan officials have sought to assure the nation that he remains in charge.

Vice President Elias Jaua said Friday that Mr. Chavez will be out of the country for the time that is needed for him to recover. Army General Henry Rangel Silva said the 56-year-old leader will return to Venezuela soon.

President Chavez confirmed in a televised speech to the Venezuelan people late Thursday that he underwent successful surgery in Cuba to remove a tumor with "cancerous cells." But he did not say what type of cancer he had, and questions remain about how sick he is.

Chavez said the surgery was performed after an initial operation in Cuba three weeks ago to remove a pelvic abscess. His prolonged stay in Cuba after the first surgery had sparked rumors he may have cancer.

On Wednesday, Venezuela canceled a summit of Latin American leaders scheduled for next week in Caracas, due to President Chavez's health issues.

The two-day summit was supposed to be the first meeting of a new regional bloc called the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Chavez was to host the summit, which coincided with the 200th anniversary of Venezuela's independence from Spain.

Venezuelan opposition figures have demanded more information about the president's health, saying Chavez and his aides should be more straightforward. Some opposition politicians have said Vice President Jaua should replace Chavez until he recovers, a move Jaua has rejected.

Sean Burges, a professor of international relations at Australian National University, told VOA Chavez's absence has left a power vacuum in Venezuela, because he is the ultimate authority on all policy matters. Burges said Chavez's illness could lead to uncertainty among Venezuelans heading into the 2012 elections, because there is no clear plan of succesion.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.