Venezuela's Chavez leaves for Cuba for cancer treatment

CARACAS Mon Dec 10, 2012 6:15am EST

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CARACAS Dec 10 (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez left for Cuba early on Monday for another round of cancer surgery, two days after he said tests showed "malignant cells" had appeared in the same part of the body where he had earlier undergone operations.

Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said Chavez's Havana-bound plane had left Caracas at about 1:30 a.m. (0600 GMT).

On Saturday, Chavez said he would undergo another operation in the coming days.

"Unfortunately, during these exhaustive exams they found some malignant cells in the same (pelvic) area" he said then. "It is absolutely necessary, absolutely essential, that I undergo a new surgical intervention."

On Sunday, in his first public acknowledgement that he might have to step down, Chavez said his vice president and foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, would take over if he becomes incapacitated.

He urged supporters to back Maduro if there was a new vote.

His departure from office, either before or after the scheduled Jan. 10 start of his new term, would trigger an election within 30 days. It would also mark the end of an era for the Latin American left, depriving it of one of its most acerbic voices and the region's loudest critic of Washington.

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