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Hugo Chavez: I had a cancerous tumour removed in Cuba

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has undergone surgery to remove a cancerous tumour, it emerged today.

There has been widespread speculation about his health since he travelled to Cuba in early June and had an operation to remove a pelvic absess.

However, he appeared on television last night to reveal that surgeons had also carried out a second operation in which they removed a tumour containing "cancerous cells".

Admitting that he had not taken proper care of his health by regular medical checks, Mr Chavez, (56) said he was facing up to "this new battle that life has placed before us".

Some reports in Venezuela suggested that the president was being treated for prostate cancer, but this was not confirmed..

Rumours of more serious health problems began to circulate as Mr Chavez, who tweets regularly, remained in Cuba for an extended stay and made no comment when Venezuela was hit by deadly prison riots and an electricity crisis.

This week a regional summit for Latin American and Carribbean nations that Mr Chavez was due to host starting on July 5 was cancelled.

Mr Chavez said the second operation had achieved the "complete extraction of the tumour" and that his condition was now "evolving satisfactorily".

"I deeply appreciate the demonstrations of solidarity by Venezuelans and other brotherly people," he added.

Opposition politicians in Caracas have already claimed that it is unconstitutional for Mr Chavez, who faces a presidential election next year, to continue governing from abroad.

Political analysts said the announcement could lead to calls for the election to be brought forward and may threaten the stability of Venezuela.