Venezuela's Chavez in 'new' recovery phase: Maduro

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has entered "a new phase" in his recovery from a fourth cancer surgery at a hospital in Cuba, Vice President Nicolas Maduro said Friday.

"Fortunately, the post-operative cycle has closed and the president entered a new phase of treatment for his illness," Maduro said at an event broadcast on VTV state television.

The leftist leader is "recovering little by little, gaining strength," added the vice president, Chavez's handpicked political heir.

Chavez has not been seen or heard from since his latest operation on December 11, and any news about his health is anxiously monitored by the Venezuelans.

Maduro, who recently met with Chavez at his Havana hospital, said that the Venezuelan president met Friday with National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello and Defense Minister Diego Molero.

Government officials have been saying for days that the president's health has been improving.

On Tuesday, Science and Technology Minister Jorge Arreaza, who is also Chavez's son-in-law, told VTV from Havana that the president was getting "better each day, and more involved in his official duties."

Maduro said last week that the Venezuelan leader had entered a phase of "complementary treatment to combat his illness."

Chavez was too sick to attend his own January 10 inauguration, prompting the government to delay the swearing-in indefinitely under an interpretation of the constitution that was heavily criticized by the opposition.

Throughout his illness, first detected in June 2011, Chavez has refused to relinquish the powers of the presidency, even when leaving for Cuba last month.