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Venezuela's Chavez clings to life, vice president says

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is clinging to life, according to the country's vice president.

"The commander is fighting for his health, for his life," Nicolas Maduro said on national TV Thursday.

The statement comes 10 days after Chavez returned to Venezuela from Cuba where he had received two months of treatment for his most recent bout with cancer.

Later on Thursday, Maduro addressed the country's national assembly, but while the expectations grew that he would say something new about Chavez' health, he stuck to the same message, saying his boss "is battling there for his health, for his life, and we're accompanying him."

It was the clearest public indication to date of the severity of the president's condition.

On Feb. 15, the Venezuelan government released photos of Chavez in a bed in Cuba wit his two daughters by his side. The photographs were the only images of him seen since December.

As expected by many Latin American analysts, Maduro's speech to the assembly has a propagandist tone.

During his address, Maduro praised Chavez' patriotism and dedication and blamed the U.S. for the destruction caused by the drug war, saying American consumers are to blame and the DEA is "the largest drug cartel in the world."

Upon his return to his home country, Chavez was transported to a hospital in the nation's capital, Caracas.

Maduro's statements on Thursday contradicted earlier press reports that the populist leader had died but signaled that the prognosis was grim.

Chavez disappeared from the public eye in December to be treated for cancer, but Venezuelans have not been informed of what type of cancer he suffers from, nor the severity. The president was too ill to attend his inauguration in January.

The president has made repeated trips to Cuba for treatment since 2011 and had not apparently cultivated a protégé to succeed him, sparking criticism that he had created a power vacuum.

The former paratrooper, who has been in power since 1999, has been a thorn in the side of Washington, espousing leftist and anti-American policies, and maintaining close ties with Havana.

NBC News' Erika Angulo contributed to this report.