Show yourself in public, sick Chavez is told by his main political rival

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Venezuela’s opposition leader has called for ailing president Hugo Chavez, who has not been seen since cancer surgery in Cuba five weeks ago, to make a public appearance.

Mr Chavez’s signature appeared in the government’s official gazette on Wednesday in a decree naming his new foreign minister – though the document wrongly placed him in Caracas.

“If the president of the republic can sign decrees, I call on him to show himself, to talk to Venezuela,” Henrique Capriles said.

“He should tell us everything that’s happening in government because what we have in Venezuela is misgovernment.”

Officials say Mr Chavez, 58, is improving, despite after a fourth cancer operation in December. Many Venezuelans suspect, however, that he could be dying or unable to return to active rule after 14 years at the helm.

Stirring the national guessing game over Mr Chavez’s condition, the appearance of his signature had Venezuelans wondering whether the president had signed the decree from his hospital room, or even if officials might have scanned an old one.

Should Mr Chavez step down or die, triggering an election, Mr Capriles, 40, is likely to stand again for president, after defeat in October last year. He would face a stiff fight against Mr Chavez’s chosen successor, vice-president Nicolas Maduro.

Mr Maduro, a 50-year-old Chavez protégé who rose from bus driver, has taken on day-to-day leadership in Venezuela, while the president’s condition is unclear.

This has infuriated opposition leaders, who have called for the appointment of a caretaker leader and fresh elections after Mr Chavez’s non-appearance at his scheduled inauguration as president on 10 January.