Thousands of supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took to the streets Saturday to push for his re-election, putting the march's focus on his signature social programs.

The socialist and leftist firebrand is seeking a third six-year term, and polls place him ahead of center-left rival Henrique Capriles in the October 7 vote.

Throngs of pro-Chavez marchers decked out in the government's red marched through downtown Caracas toward Plaza O'Leary, chanting boisterously: "Hi Ho. Chavez is not going to go."

"We are here defending the (social) missions, which are the most humble thing, the most human thing, President Chavez's love," shouted one unnamed youth on VTV state television, which broadcast the event in full.

The country is highly polarized between the two camps and earlier this month the Carter Center, a human rights organization founded by former US president Jimmy Carter, urged the two candidates to ease tensions so as to avert post-election violence.

The president himself, 58, was not at the event. But he reached out to supporters via Twitter, saying thanks "for so much love ... Bravo for the (social) mission."

Meanwhile Capriles, who has said he supports some of Chavez's popular social programs such as housing and health care, was crisscrossing the country ahead of the election.

Many of his supporters are unhappy with Venezuela's soaring crime rate, inflation and the increasing state role in the country's economy.

On Monday, Chavez -- who is recovering from cancer -- was at a rally closing event but did not give one of his traditional long speeches. At another two events, the president gave unusually short addresses.

Capriles called off a rally September 12 in Caracas, saying armed pro-Chavez people were preparing to disrupt it.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]