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Cancer-stricken Chavez smiles with daughters in first photo for weeks

Venezuelan Ministry of Information/Reuters

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez holds Cuba's Gramma newspaper as his daughters, Rosa Virginia (right) and Maria look on.

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela published the first photos of cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez since his surgery in Cuba more than two months ago, showing him smiling while lying in bed reading a newspaper, flanked by his two daughters.

The government said on Friday that the 58-year-old president was still suffering respiratory problems after a lung infection, and that he was breathing through a tracheal tube.

Chavez had not been seen in public, and has still not been heard from, since the operation on Dec. 11, his fourth surgery for a cancer in his pelvic region first diagnosed in mid-2011.

Chavez's face looked swollen in the two images, where he appeared alongside his daughters, Maria Gabriela and Rosa Virginia.

He was lying in a hospital bed, and in one of the photographs they were reading Cuban state newspaper Granma.

The government said the photos were taken on Thursday night.

"The post-operative respiratory infection was controlled, but there is still some insufficiency," Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said in the latest communique on Chavez's health. "Under these circumstances, which are being treated, the commander is currently breathing through a tracheal tube."

Chavez has never said what type of cancer he has been treated for, and in his absence critics have accused the government of secrecy over his condition.

Last October the socialist leader was re-elected to a new six-year term in office. But he was too ill to return to Venezuela for his inauguration ceremony last month.

On Wednesday, Vice President Nicolas Maduro -- Chavez's preferred successor -- said the socialist leader was undergoing "complex" alternative treatments but did not give details.

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