The Venezuelan government lashed out Friday at a wave of rumors about the fate of ailing President Hugo Chavez, branding it "psychological warfare" aimed at destabilizing the nation.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro, the leftist leader's designated heir, said Chavez was undergoing "complex and difficult" treatment in a Caracas military hospital, where he checked in last week after two months in Cuban care.
"Stop attacking our comandante, stop the rumors, stop using this situation, which is delicate for everybody, to try to create a destabilization," Maduro said on state-run television.
Maduro singled out the conservative Spanish newspaper ABC and Colombian radio Caracol, calling them "fascist" news organizations that are part of a "campaign against the stability of Venezuela, lying about Chavez."
ABC reported on Friday that Chavez was transferred to the presidential retreat in the island of La Orchilada days ago to spend his final moments with his family there.
Radio Caracol interviewed Panama's former ambassador to the Organization of American States, Guillermo Cochez, who claims that Chavez was taken off life support days ago after being declared brain dead.
Chavez, whose nation sits on the world's largest proven oil reserve, has not come out or spoken in public since he underwent cancer surgery in Cuba on December 11.
The government has only released a set of pictures on February 15, showing him smiling in his sickbed and flanked by two daughters, three days before he returned to Caracas in the dead of night.
The normally garrulous and omnipresent leader's prolonged absence from public view has fueled a slew of rumors on social media and the streets of Caracas.
"There is psychological warfare to confuse the Venezuelan people," said Science Minister Jorge Arreaza, Chavez's son-in-law.
"Comandante Chavez is fighting," he said, adding that the firebrand leader was "at the military hospital, very calm with his doctors and his family."
The government says Chavez remains in charge and that he even held a five-hour meeting in his military hospital room last week, but the opposition has voiced doubts that it ever took place.
"Maduro has lied about the health of the president. It is a lie that he met him for five hours. The country will know the truth in a few days," opposition leader Henrique Capriles wrote on Twitter.
"We will see how they explain to the country in the coming days all the lies that they have said about the president's situation," said the Miranda state governor, who lost to Chavez in the October presidential election.
Around 40 university students have spent four straight nights chained to each other in the middle of a Caracas street, vowing to stay there until the "de facto" government "tells the truth" about Chavez.
Under the constitution, an election would have to be held within 30 days if Chavez is declared unfit to return to power. An opposition alliance is holding talks to name a unity candidate in case a snap election is called.
In power for 14 years, Chavez was supposed to be sworn in to a new six year term on January 10, but his inauguration was delayed indefinitely, a decision backed by the Supreme Court.
Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas said there was a "psychological operation to generate unease among the Venezuela people."
Chavez, he said, "is in a process of recuperation, his family is accompanying him. Who can imagine putting up with the awful things being said on Twitter, little messages, on the Internet?"