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Chavez makes surprise return

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has made a surprise return from Cuba more than two months after surgery for cancer.

The 58-year-old socialist leader's homecoming will fuel supporters' hopes he could return to active rule, but there is no new information on his medical state.

After a six-hour operation in Cuba on December 11 – his fourth since the cancer was first detected in his pelvic area in June 2011 – Mr Chavez had not been seen or heard in public until photographs of him were published on Friday.

These showed him lying in a hospital. Officials said he was breathing through a tracheal tube and struggling to speak.

There had been speculation Mr Chavez was not well enough to travel, but Vice-President Nicolas Maduro said Mr Chavez flew in at 2.30am local time yesterday from Havana and was in a hospital in Caracas.

After flying in, Mr Chavez said via Twitter: "We have arrived back in the Venezuelan fatherland. Thanks, my God. Thanks, my beloved people. Here we will continue the treatment,"

His arrival thrilled supporters in the nation of 29 million people, where his common touch and welfare policies have made him an idol to the poor.

Fireworks could be heard going off in some Caracas neighbourhoods as news spread and celebrations began among supporters, known as "Chavistas".

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