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Venezuela: Court approves Chávez inauguration postponement

Well-known for lengthy speeches, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has been publicly silent for nearly a month. His inauguration, originally scheduled for Thursday, has been postponed. Critics are calling for new elections.  

By Daniel Wallis and Eyanir ChineaReuters / January 9, 2013

A mural of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez decorates a wall in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday. Venezuela's congress has voted to postpone the inauguration of President Hugo Chavez to let him recover from cancer surgery in Cuba.

AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos

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CARACAS

Venezuela's top court endorsed the postponement of Hugo Chavez's inauguration this week and ruled on Wednesday that the cancer-stricken president and his deputy would continue in their roles, despite a cacophony of opposition complaints.

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Critics had argued the 58-year-old's absence from his own swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 10 meant a caretaker president must be appointed. Chavez has not been seen in public nor heard from in almost a month following surgery in Cuba.

"Right now we cannot say when, how or where the president will be sworn in," Supreme Court Chief Judge Luisa Morales told a news conference.

"As president re-elect there is no interruption of performance of duties ... The inauguration can be carried out at a later date before the Supreme Court."

The decision opens the door in theory for Chavez to remain in office for weeks or months more from a Cuban hospital bed - though there is no evidence he is even conscious.

It leaves the South American country in the hands of Vice President Nicolas Maduro, as de facto leader of the government.

The opposition say that is a brazen violation of the constitution, and that Maduro should leave office on Thursday when the current presidential term had been due to expire.

They say National Assembly boss Diosdado Cabello, another powerful Chavez ally, should take over the running of the country while new elections would be organized within 30 days.

Maduro would be the ruling Socialist Party's candidate.

Government leaders insist Chavez, 58, is fulfilling his duties as head of state, even though official medical bulletins say he suffered complications after the surgery, including a severe lung infection, and has had trouble breathing.

His resignation or death would transform politics in the OPEC nation, where he is revered by poor supporters thankful for his social largesse, but denounced by opponents as a dictator.

Rally planned for Thursday 

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost a presidential election to Chavez in October, said the Supreme Court had become politicized under the socialist leader's administration.

"The tribunal gave an interpretation (of the constitution) in order to solve a problem that the government has," Capriles told a news conference.

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