UK & World News

  • 11 January 2013, 5:00

Eleven Killed In Hugo Chavez Rally Coach Crash

At least 11 people have been killed and more than 75 injured when two buses crashed into a lorry in western Venezuela on their way to a rally in support of cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez.

Police said a fatal crash occurred on a highway in the western Venezuelan state of Zulia in the early hours of the morning.

Yonder Polo, a relative of one of those injured in the accident, told local media the buses were "heading to Caracas to supposedly support the Chavez rally".

Survivor Erwin Carrasquero could not hold back his tears as he recalled the horror of the collision that killed two of his friends.

"Sadly he lost his life, and another youngster that was with us, but thankfully we are here and we must be thankful to God because we are alive," he said.

Footage from the scene showed the mangled wreckage of the buses with rescue workers and Venezuela's highway patrol at the scene of the accident.

Tens of thousands of supporters rallied in honour of their beloved 58-year-old leader on the day he should have been sworn in as president for a new six-year term, but was too ill to attend.

President Chavez remained on his sickbed in Cuba while his supporters staged the massive gathering.

The crowd chanted: "We are all Chavez!" Some wore paper cut-outs of the yellow, blue and red presidential sash to show they were symbolically swearing in themselves in, in their leader's place.

Mr Chavez is reported to be suffering complications from a fourth cancer operation in his pelvic area.

As well as the operations, the leader has undergone weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatment since being diagnosed with an undisclosed type of cancer in June 2011.

He looked to have staged a remarkable recovery last year, winning a new presidential term in October. But within weeks of his victory he returned to Havana for more treatment.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro - a former bus driver who shares Mr Chavez's radical socialist views and is his designated successor - is in charge of day-to-day government until there is clarity over whether he will recover.

Addressing Thursday's rally, Mr Maduro, shouted "Viva Chavez!" and called for a round of applause for the president's Cabinet ministers, saying they were starting a new term.

Of the president himself, he said he is "in a battle".

A clutch of foreign friends, including the presidents of Uruguay, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, all joined the rally.

Venezuela's Supreme Court has ruled that President Chavez's inauguration date of 10 January could be postponed until he was well enough to attend.