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Hugo Chavez's rival slams him for crying

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela's opposition candidate in next month's presidential elections criticized President Hugo Chavez on Sunday for crying over his loss of freedom during his more than 13 years in power.

Chavez choked up on Saturday in an emotional speech, where he said he has endured personal sacrifices for his political project and remembered bucolic days when he roamed free through Venezuela's countryside.

"If it were up to me I would come down from this stage and would walk again, as I used to before, the streets of San Fernando de Apure," Chavez told a crowd in the cattle-ranching city located in "Los Llanos," the sparsely populated plains that spread through most of central Venezuela from the Orinoco River to the Andes.

But Henrique Capriles says Chavez should stop weeping for his lack of free time and instead shed tears for all the Venezuelan mothers who have lost children to violent crime.

"Who cries for the mothers who mourn their children killed by the criminal underworld? Or for the families that can't get food and medicine? Or for those who suffer violence in prison?" Capriles said in a campaign speech in Petare, one of Latin America's biggest and most dangerous slums.

The Justice Ministry says more than 14,000 people were slain last year in Venezuela. The homicide rate is 50 homicides per 100,000 people, one of the highest in the world.

Human rights group say the number of killings inside Venezuela's prisons spiked this year even as Chavez faces increased pressure to curb the violence in the last month of his campaign for re-election to another six-year term.

Riots and clashes between rival gangs in Venezuelan prisons left 304 dead inmates during the first half of 2012, a 15 percent increase compared to the same period last year, according the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory, which tracks the violence.

Many poor families have benefitted from Chavez's social programs funded by the country's rich oil industry. But Venezuelans suffer from insecurity, scarcity of some medicines and food products and one of the world's highest inflation rates.

Chavez maintains a lead in most recent polls, but one survey last month put the two candidates roughly even ahead of the Oct. 7 vote.

Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao