Posted: Feb 22, 2013 4:51 PM
Updated: Feb 22, 2013 4:52 PM
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) Hundreds of Venezuelans have held a candlelight vigil for President Hugo Chavez, praying for their leader while he remains in a hospital undergoing cancer treatment.
Chavez's supporters gathered on a large staircase in a hillside park near the presidential palace. They lit candles and sang along with a recording of Chavez singing the national anthem.
Some wiped away tears. Others closed their eyes and prayed.
A group of indigenous people in traditional dress danced around a bonfire at the base of the stairs. One woman blew on a conch shell, while others shook gourds as they danced around the flames.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
Venezuela's foreign minister read a lengthy letter from ailing President Hugo Chavez on Friday to a gathering of African and South American leaders in Equatorial Guinea.
In the letter, read on television by Foreign Minister Elias Jaua, Chavez said he was sorry not to be able to attend the meeting.
Chavez hasn't spoken publicly since before he underwent his latest cancer surgery on Dec. 11, and even written statements have been rare. Government officials have said Chavez is breathing through a tracheal tube, but they have also shown a few letters and other documents with his signature.
In the letter, which ran for about 1,500 words, Chavez denounced Western intervention in Africa and reiterated his criticisms of NATO's military involvement in Libya in 2011, when his ally Moammar Gadhafi was ousted and killed.
Chavez also called for more "South-South cooperation" and said of Africa and South America, "We are the same people."
The letter ended with the words: "We will live and be triumphant!"
Last month, Vice President Nicolas Maduro read a similarly lengthy letter from Chavez to leaders at a summit in Chile.
The Venezuelan government provided an update on Chavez's condition Thursday night, saying that he remained at a military hospital in Caracas and that "the medical treatment for the fundamental illness continues without presenting significant adverse effects."
The government has not given details about the treatment Chavez is undergoing, and hasn't identified the type or exact location of the tumors that have been removed from his pelvic region.
Information Minister Ernesto Villegas read the statement on television, saying that a "respiratory insufficiency" that arose in the weeks after the surgery "persists and its tendency has not been favorable, thus it continues to be treated."