Venezuela's Chavez assures backers: 'I will live'

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez isn't naming a substitute as he prepares to head to Cuba for surgery to remove a potentially cancerous tumour, and he assured supporters on Friday that he will be around for a long time.

"I will live! I will live!" Chavez said, pounding the table, during a live television appearance broadcast across the nation.

He said he will leave on Friday and will undergo the operation early next week. Shown at the head of a wooden conference table, Chavez sang, laughed, bantered and urged his nervous-looking ministers and other officials to be of good cheer.

At one point, a boy appeared via a video feed from the western city of Maracaibo and recited a couplet about the president's illness and how he will overcome it.

Chavez, who is running for re-election this year, also warned that his opponents will try to destabilize his government while he undergoes surgery.

The opposition, he alleged, plans to spread rumors of discontent and division within the country's military and stir intrigue about his health.

The nation's congress earlier unanimously approved permission for Chavez to leave a formality required by the constitution.

Under Venezuela's Constitution, the vice president may take the president's place during temporary absences of up to 90 days, which the National Assembly may extend for 90 days more.

Pro-Chavez lawmakers scoffed at opposition suggestions that Chavez might need the vice president to temporarily assume office.

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