Thousands of Venezuelans in pro-democracy rallies

Venezuelan opposition rally on 23 January

Allies of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez and the opposition have taken part in separate rallies to celebrate the end of military dictatorship.

Thousands of «Chavistas» took to the streets of the capital, Caracas, while their opponents held a smaller event.

The opposition used the date to criticise the government’s handling of Mr Chavez’s absence for illness.

President Chavez has not been seen or heard since an operation six weeks ago to treat an undisclosed cancer.

The 23 January marks the 55th anniversary of the fall of Venezuela’s last dictator, Marcos Perez Jimenez, who ruled between 1952 and 1958.

Many traditional pro-democracy speeches to mark the date have been used by allies to express support for the ailing Mr Chavez.

The Venezuelan opposition gathered in a sports arena and attacked the president’s prolonged absence.

Bolivian President Evo Morales President Evo Morales said he spoke to Mr Chavez on the phone on two consecutive days

Mr Chavez did not attend his inauguration on 10 January, in a move that forced the Supreme Court to decide on the legality of the situation.

Although it said the president’s absence was legal and authorised by the National Assembly, opponents did not agree with the interpretation.

In recent days, officials and allies have hinted at a speedier recovery of President Chavez, who is said to have suffered respiratory complications after surgery.

Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, said he was «receiving physiotherapy to return to his country», while officials said Mr Chavez has been in good spirits and «gaining strength».

On Sunday, Vice-President Nicolas Maduro said the president was «gaining strength» following complications after cancer surgery on 11 December.

Mr Maduro said the leader was entering a new phase of treatment, after having suffered respiratory complications following the operation.

He also said he was optimistic about the president returning to Venezuela soon.

BBC News – Thousands of Venezuelans in pro-democracy rallies.

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