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Chávez celebrates 57th birthday with vow to beat cancer - Sets new summit date

Published:Friday | July 29, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez celebrated his 57th birthday Thursday vowing to survive cancer and proposing to host a summit of Latin American leaders in December.

Chávez said he expects his hair will begin to fall out soon due to chemotherapy but that he should be finished with the bulk of his cancer treatments by December.

"At the end of the year, I should have passed this hard, careful, very, very strict phase," Chávez said in a telephone interview on state television.

He said he sent letters inviting Latin American and Caribbean leaders to the summit in Caracas on December 9. That meeting had originally been scheduled for July 5-6 but was postponed due to Chavez's illness.

A group of children sang birthday songs for Chávez on television and blew out a candle on a cake in his honour.

Chávez said that for now he needs to limit his contact with the public because chemotherapy has weakened him and lowered his natural immune defences. But he also said he planned to address supporters from a balcony of the presidential palace Thursday.

"I'm going to be here in private with my inner team," Chávez said. "But of course, I'm going to the balcony."

He said he was sorry he couldn't attend Thursday's inauguration of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, and that he sent his foreign minister in his place.

"I sent a hug to Ollanta," said Chávez, who also offered a congratulatory message to the Peruvian leader through his Twitter account.

Chávez underwent surgery in Cuba on June 20 to remove a cancerous tumour. He has not said what type of cancer he has been diagnosed with or specified where exactly it was located, saying only that it was in his pelvic region.

He underwent his first phase of chemotherapy in Cuba last week, saying the aim was to make sure no malignant cells reappear.

The president said he was preparing to begin a second phase of chemotherapy.

"But putting all those things aside, I'm happy," he said. Chávez called his 57th birthday "sublime."

"And I invite you to the 67th," he said.

- AP