Venezuela's main opposition presidential candidate has drawn thousands onto the streets as he registered to run against President Hugo Chavez. The cancer-stricken president says he is in good health.
Tens of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets of their capital, Caracas, on Sunday to support opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, in the first major rally of his campaign against ailing President Hugo Chavez.
The 39-year-old Capriles walked and jogged 10 kilometers (6 miles) to the National Electoral Council, where he registered to run against Chavez, who is seeking a third term in the October 7 presidential election. Capriles had already resigned as the governor of the northern Miranda state earlier in the week to fulfill a legal requirement before campaigning.
"On October 7, we are not going to choose between two men," Capriles said. "We are going to choose between two ways of life. On October 7, we are going to choose between a present that is stagnant, violent and has no opportunities, and those of us who believe the country holds a future of progress for all of us."
Capriles has promised to fight corruption, create jobs, improve unreliable public services and fight a murder rate that rivals some warzones. He opposes President Chavez's drive to make Venezuela a modern socialist state, offering instead a mix of pro-business policies and social programs similar to the model in neighboring Brazil.
Uphill electoral battle
Chavez maintains a double-digit lead in the polls. He has built his popularity among the poor, handing out apartments, pensions and stipends to poor mothers in the run up to the election. South America's most famous leftist leader, he regularly condemns what he calls US imperialism and global capitalism.
The 57-year-old former paratrooper commander has been battling cancer in recent months, which has largely kept him out of the public eye. After declaring himself cancer free, Chavez had a relapse earlier this year, fuelling speculation about the seriousness of his condition. The president said on Saturday that his most recent medical exams showed him to be in good health.
The opposition has gained ground in recent years as dissatisfaction grows with the sectarian polarization of Chavez's 13-year rule.
slk/ipj (AP, AFP, Reuters)