CARACAS, Venezuela – A march by thousands of Venezuelans to mark the country's bicentennial Sunday quickly turned into a show of support for ailing President Hugo Chavez, who remained in Cuba recovering from the removal of a cancerous tumor.
The president's red-clad supporters waved flags, beat drums and chanted "Long live Chavez!" They also displayed signs reading "Get well soon, commander" and "Venezuela is with you."
A message on Chavez's Twitter account said he was doing his "daily exercises and receiving that bath of love" from the demonstrators in Caracas.
"It's the best medicine!" he said in the message.
Chavez's Twitter account posted four messages within three hours Sunday, including one referring to the "Bolivarian youth" marching on the streets: "I see you, I hear you."
Vice President Elias Jaua addressed the crowd, shouting: "We will be victorious, commander!"
The mood was energetic and festive as thousands waved their hands in the air, yet also tempered by concerns for the future.
"I feel very bad, with a big emptiness inside for what could happen in the country," said Carlos Rojas, a 48-year-old Chavez supporter and lawyer. "I'm praying for him to be better soon."
Venezuelan state television showed new video footage Sunday of Chavez chatting with his foreign minister and taking a stroll hand-in-hand with two of his daughters, Rosa and Maria. He wore a sports jersey with his name on the back, holding his daughters' hands as they walked along a concrete path surrounded by grass and palm trees.
Chavez has lost weight following his surgeries and appeared thin, though energetic and animated as he reminisced with Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro about old friends. State television said the video was recorded Friday. Photographs of the encounter were also published by Venezuela's state news agency and the state-run Cuban news media.
"President Chavez, fulfilling the recovery plan he has in our country, walked for about 10 minutes with his family, Foreign Minister Maduro and part of his medical team. He got some sun and exercised," newspaper Juventud Rebelde said in a brief story.
Maduro said during an interview televised Saturday that Venezuelan and Cuban doctors conducted tests showing the president's vital organs are healthy.
"They were able to completely remove the tumor," Maduro said. "They examined all of his organs and they are in perfect condition."
The state-run Venezuelan News Agency, or AVN, quoted Maduro as saying Chavez "is in a new phase of recuperation, doing his exercises."
Chavez arrived in Cuba on June 8 for what ostensibly was a previously scheduled visit. He has said he underwent an initial surgery on June 11 to have a pelvic abscess removed. Maduro said a subsequent surgery removed a cancerous "abscessed tumor" from the president's pelvis.
After 18 days out of sight, Chavez announced on Thursday that he had the second surgery to remove the tumor. He didn't give details about what kind of cancer he had or say how soon he might return home.
Chavez opponents have accused the government of not providing enough information about the president's condition.
But Jaua was quoted by the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal on Sunday as saying that officials had been informing the public properly as the situation evolved. He said that once the tumor was discovered, "We respected the right of the president to be the one to tell the country."
"There is no law ... that obliges the human being Hugo Chavez to give details about the characteristics of the condition he has," Jaua told the newspaper. "The country knows what it has to know. It knows that he is undergoing treatment and that the best conditions possible have been provided for him to recover."
Chavez's illness has also raised questions about whether he will be fit to run for re-election in 2012.
"Of course he will, and he's going to be (elected) president once again in 2012," Jaua was quoted as saying.