Chavez suffers new complications in cancer fight

Updated 01 January 2013
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Chavez suffers new complications in cancer fight

CARACAS, Venezuela: President Hugo Chavez’s new complications after cancer surgery prompted his closest allies to call for Venezuelans to pray for him on Monday, presenting an increasingly bleak outlook and prompting growing speculation about whether the ailing leader has much longer to live.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro looked weary and spoke with a solemn expression as he announced in a televised address from Havana on Sunday that Chavez now confronts “new complications” due to a respiratory infection nearly three weeks after his operation. He described Chavez’s condition as delicate.
The streets of Caracas were abuzz on Monday with talk of Chavez’s increasingly tough fight, while the news topped the front pages of the country’s newspapers.
“He’s history now,” said Cesar Amaro, a street vendor selling newspapers and snacks at a kiosk in downtown Caracas. He motioned to a newspaper showing side-by-side photos of Maduro and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, and said politics will now turn to them.
Amaro said he expects a new election soon to replace Chavez. “For an illness like the one the president has, his days are numbered now,” he said matter-of-factly.
A government-organized New Year’s Eve concert had been planned in a downtown Caracas plaza featuring popular Venezuelan bands, but was canceled due to Chavez’s condition. Information Minister Ernesto Villegas on Sunday night urged Venezuelans to keep their president in their prayers.
Political analyst Ricardo Sucre said the outlook for Chavez appears grim, saying Maduro’s body language during his televised appearance spoke volumes.
“Everything suggests Chavez’s health situation hasn’t evolved as hoped,” Sucre said. He said Maduro likely remained in Havana to keep close watch on how Chavez’s condition develops.
“These hours should be key to having a more definitive prognosis of Chavez’s health, and as a consequence make the corresponding political decisions according to the constitution,” Sucre said.
Sucre and other Venezuelans said it seems increasingly unlikely that Chavez would be able to be sworn in as scheduled on Jan. 10.
The Venezuelan leader has not been seen or heard from since undergoing his fourth cancer-related surgery Dec. 11, and government officials have said he might not return in time for his inauguration for a new six-year term.
If Chavez dies or is unable to continue in office, the Venezuelan Constitution says that a new election should be held within 30 days.
Before his operation, Chavez acknowledged he faced risks and designated Maduro as his successor, telling supporters they should vote for the vice president if a new presidential election were necessary.
Chavez said at the time that his cancer had come back despite previous surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He has been fighting an undisclosed type of pelvic cancer since June 2011.
Maduro said on Sunday that he had met with Chavez. “We greeted each other and he himself referred to these complications,” Maduro said, reading from a prepared statement.
“The president gave us precise instructions so that, after finishing the visit, we would tell the (Venezuelan) people about his current health condition,” Maduro said. “President Chavez’s state of health continues to be delicate, with complications that are being attended to, in a process not without risks.”
Maduro was seated alongside Chavez’s eldest daughter, Rosa, and son-in-law Jorge Arreaza, as well as Attorney General Cilia Flores. He held up a copy of a newspaper confirming that his message was recorded on Sunday.
“Thanks to his physical and spiritual strength, Comandante Chavez is facing this difficult situation,” Maduro said.
Maduro said he had met various times with Chavez’s medical team and relatives. He said he would remain in Havana “for the coming hours” but didn’t specify how long.
Maduro, who arrived in Havana on Saturday for the sudden and unexpected trip, is the highest-ranking Venezuelan official to see Chavez since the surgery in Cuba, where the president’s mentor Fidel Castro has reportedly made regular visits to check on him.
Before flying to Cuba, Maduro said that Energy Minister Hector Navarro would be in charge of government affairs in the meantime.
“The situation does not look good. The fact that Maduro himself would go to Cuba, leaving Hector Navarro in charge only seems understandable if Chavez’s health is precarious,” said David Smilde, a University of Georgia sociologist and analyst for the Washington Office on Latin America think tank.
Smilde said that Maduro probably made the trip “to be able to talk to Chavez himself and perhaps to talk to the Castros and other Cuban advisers about how to navigate the possibility of Chavez not being able to be sworn in on Jan. 10.”
“Mentioning twice in his nationally televised speech that Chavez has suffered new complications only reinforces the appearance that the situation is serious,” Smilde said.
Medical experts say that it’s common for patients who have undergone major surgeries to suffer respiratory infections and that how a patient fares can vary widely from a quick recovery in a couple of days to a fight for life on a respirator.
Maduro’s latest update differed markedly from a week ago, when he had said he received a phone call from the president and that Chavez was up and walking.
The vice president spoke on Sunday below a picture of 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar, the inspiration of Chavez’s leftist Bolivarian Revolution movement.
Maduro said that Chavez had sent year-end greetings to his homeland and a “warm hug to the boys and girls of Venezuela.”
The vice president expressed faith that Chavez’s “immense will to live and the care of the best medical specialists will help our president successfully fight this new battle.” He concluded his message saying: “Long live Chavez.”
Chavez has been in office since 1999 and was re-elected in October, three months after he had announced that his latest tests showed he was cancer-free.
Opposition politicians have criticized a lack of detailed information about Chavez’s condition, and last week repeated their demands for a full medical report.
Villegas defended the government’s handling of the situation, saying during a televised panel discussion on Sunday night that Chavez “has told the truth in his worst moments” throughout his presidency.
He also referred to a new surge of rumors about Chavez’s condition and called for respect for the president and his family.
Chavez’s daughter Maria, who has been with the president since his surgery, said in a message on her Twitter account: “Thank you people of Venezuela. Thank you people of the world. You and your love have always been our greatest strength! God is with us! We love you!“
Allies of the president also responded on Twitter, repeating the phrase: “Chavez lives and will triumph.”


Kim’s ‘bitter sorrow’ as North Korea bus crash kills 32 Chinese

Updated 30 min 12 sec ago
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Kim’s ‘bitter sorrow’ as North Korea bus crash kills 32 Chinese

  • Beijing is Pyongyang’s sole major ally, providing an important economic and political buffer against international opprobrium
  • For some, North Korea provides a window into what Communist China may have looked like decades ago

BEIJING: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has expressed his “bitter sorrow” after dozens of Chinese tourists were killed when a bus they were traveling in plunged off a bridge.
Thirty-two Chinese tourists and four North Koreans perished in the accident south of Pyongyang Sunday night, Chinese officials and state media said. Two other Chinese nationals were injured.
In a rare admission of negative news from North Korea’s tightly controlled propaganda network, the KCNA news agency on Tuesday said Kim met personally with the Chinese ambassador in Pyongyang and later visited survivors in hospital.
The Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the mouthpiece of the ruling party, carried a front-page on Kim’s actions, including pictures of him in a doctor’s white coat, holding the two survivors’ hands as they lay in their hospital beds.
Although such a move might be unsurprising in other countries, it is an unusual portrayal of Kim, who is usually shown presiding over formal meetings or visiting work or army units.
Kim “said that the unexpected accident brought bitter sorrow to his heart and that he couldn’t control his grief at the thought of the bereaved families who lost their blood relatives,” KCNA reported.
The North Korean leader said his people “take the tragic accident as their own misfortune,” it added.
The fulsomeness of Kim’s comments reflects the importance of China — and its tourists — to his country and economy.
Beijing is Pyongyang’s sole major ally, providing an important economic and political buffer against international opprobrium.
Their relationship was forged in the blood of the Korean War, and while it has soured more recently, with China increasingly exasperated by the North’s nuclear antics and enforcing UN Security Council sanctions against it, there has been an improvement in recent weeks.
Last month, Kim embarked on his first overseas trip since inheriting power in 2011 to finally pay his respects to Chinese President Xi Jinping and was warmly welcomed in Beijing.
China is by far the biggest source of tourists for the North, with direct flights and a long land border connecting the neighbor, and tens of thousands are believed to visit every year, many crossing via train through the Chinese border city of Dandong.
For some, North Korea provides a window into what Communist China may have looked like decades ago.
In contrast Western visitors to the North once averaged around 5,000 a year, but numbers have been hit recently by a US travel ban — Americans accounted for around 20 percent of the market — and official warnings from other countries.
Xinhua news agency reported that the bus had fallen from a bridge in North Hwanghae province.
China’s state broadcaster showed images of a large overturned vehicle, with light rain falling on rescue vehicles at night and doctors attending to a patient.
KCNA said the crash was “an unexpected traffic accident that claimed heavy casualties among Chinese tourists.” It gave no breakdown on the numbers killed or injured.
The Chinese foreign ministry said Tuesday a group of officials and five medical experts had arrived in Pyongyang to assist the North in treating the injured and dealing with the aftermath.
They also visited a temporary morgue for the dead to check their identities and express condolences, it said.
North Hwanghae province lies south of Pyongyang and stretches to the border with South Korea. It includes the city of Kaesong, an ancient Korean capital with historical sites and, until recently, a manufacturing complex operated with the South.
The tour group was traveling by bus from Kaesong to Pyongyang when the accident happened, according to the independent Seoul-based website NK News, which cited an unnamed source.
North Korean roads are largely poor and potholed, and in many areas, they are dirt rather than tarmac. Vehicles are sometimes forced to ford rivers or take detours when bridges are unpassable.
But the route from Pyongyang to Kaesong is one of the best in the country.
It runs north-south from the Chinese border to the Demilitarized Zone on the border with South Korea but has little traffic, like all North Korean highways.
Tank traps have been installed along the road in many locations — sets of high concrete columns on either side of the road that can easily be blown up to create an obstruction for invading armored vehicles.