Spain's highest-circulation daily has removed from its Web site and the front page of its Thursday print edition a photo of a man with breathing tubes whom it had wrongly identified as ailing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

After confirming that the man in the image provided by a news agency was not Chavez, Madrid-based El Pais "immediately halted its print edition and proceeded to send out a new edition to points of sale."

Chavez, 58, has been hospitalized in Cuba since Dec. 11 after undergoing his fourth cancer surgery since June 2011.

Early morning print editions of El Pais contained a grainy photo said to have been taken "a few days ago" and showing a bald man identified as Chavez lying down in the foreground with breathing tubes in his mouth.

The photo does not have a byline and El Pais said it had been unable to independently verify the "circumstances in which the image was taken, nor the precise moment, nor the place. The political particularities of Cuba and the media restrictions imposed by the regime made it impossible."

As soon as officials in Caracas became aware of the purported photo of Chavez, Venezuelan Communication Minister Ernesto Villegas said it was false.

The minister identified the image as a still from a video posted on YouTube in August 2008 that shows a bald, round-faced man lying on a stretcher and identified as a "48-year-old acromegalic patient."

Chavez, a leftist who took office in 1999, was re-elected last Oct. 7 by a comfortable margin and is supposed to serve until 2019.

EFE