Screen grab from Venezuelas' VTV official television broadcast during a report by Venezuelan Interior Minister Ernesto Villegas, showing of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, surrounded by his daughters and holding an issue of Granma Cuban official newspaper, at hospital in Havana, the first images released since his last hospitalisation. -AFP Photo

CARACAS: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was seen bed-ridden but smiling in photos released on Friday that gave a jittery nation a first glimpse of him since his fourth round of cancer surgery in December.

The pictures show Chavez lying in bed in a Havana hospital, with his two daughters at his side and holding Thursday's edition of the official Cuban newspaper Granma.

The images broke a virtual news blackout for Venezuelans living in a state of limbo without their once media-happy and larger than life comandante.

Until now they had not seen a single photo of him, nor heard his voice, with sketchy government updates about Chavez's health feeding conspiracy theories.

But Venezuelans will have to wait longer for the former commando to break his silence.

Chavez has been fitted with a breathing tube in his throat, making it hard for him to speak, Information Minister Ernesto Villagas said.

That's because of a respiratory infection that emerged after the surgery, he said. The infection has been brought under control and is being treated, but Chavez still has some trouble breathing.

“Because of this, commander Chavez is breathing through a tracheal tube, which temporarily hinders his speech,” Villegas said in a televised speech to the nation.

It was Chavez's son in law Jorge Arreaza, who is also science minister, who showed the printed photos of Chavez on television.

“We wanted to share with you now some shots from last night of our commander accompanied by his two daughters Rosa Virginia and Maria Gabriela ... yesterday on the day of friendship, on Valentine's Day,” Arreaza said.


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