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CARACAS, March 1 (Reuters) - Hugo Chavez's son-in-law mocked this week's crescendo of rumors that the Venezuelan president may be dead or dying from the cancer he has been treated for since mid-2011.
"The launching of absurd and bizarre rumors by the right wing simply discredits them and isolates them further from the people," wrote Jorge Arreaza, who is also Venezuela's science minister, on his Twitter account late on Thursday.
Speculation about Chavez, 58, reached a fever pitch this week, fed in part by assertions from Panama's former ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Guillermo Cochez, to media that the Venezuelan leader had died.
Apart from one set of photos showing Chavez in a hospital bed, he has not been seen or heard from in public since Dec. 11 cancer surgery in Cuba, his fourth such operation. He returned to a military hospital in Caracas last week.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro, now Venezuela's de facto leader and Chavez's preferred successor, repeated several times during the week that the president was "fighting for his life" and urged Venezuelans to be patient with the situation.
Opposition politicians say the government is being deceitful about the president's real condition.
On the street, Venezuelans are extremely anxious, endlessly speculating over Chavez's state and wondering what the potential end of his 14-year rule might mean for them. (Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Vicki Allen)