Venezuela's Chavez laughs off court's election ruling

Sat Sep 17, 2011 6:39pm EDT
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By Hugh Bronstein

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, on his way to Cuba for a fourth round of chemotherapy on Saturday, dismissed an international court ruling that cleared a key opposition candidate to run against him in 2012.

The charismatic leftist has led Latin America's top oil exporting country since 1999 and wants to stay in office until at least 2025 to consolidate his self-styled "revolution."

The opposition -- galvanized by a recent decision from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that cleared rival Leopoldo Lopez to run against Chavez -- aims to bring that revolution to an end in the October, 2012, election.

The court is part of the Organization of American States, or OAS, and its decisions are supposed to be binding. But Venezuela may keep Lopez out of the campaign just the same.

Despite being treated over the last three months for cancer, Chavez was in classic form on Saturday, breaking into song during marathon public appearances. In televised comments, he laughed the court decision off with a play on words.

"One of my haircuts is worth more than this court," he said to laughter from an audience of supporters. In Spanish, the word "corte" means "court" as well as "cut", as in haircut.

The 57-year-old leader has shaved his head since entering chemotherapy and often jokes about his new look. His government issued a statement on Friday dismissing the Lopez ruling as a politically motivated violation of Venezuelan sovereignty.

Chavez remains Venezuela's most popular politicians despite rampant crime and one of the highest inflation rates in the world. In June he underwent surgery in Cuba to remove a tumor in the pelvic area, throwing added uncertainty into Venezuela's upcoming political season.   Continued...

<p>Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez from the "Voluntad Popular" (Popular Will) party greets supporters during a rally in Caracas September 16, 2011. REUTERS/Jorge Silva</p>