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Chavez could miss his inauguration

Lingering illness casts doubt on succession plan

Chavez
Associated Press
Pro-Hugo Chavez posters line a Caracas, Venezuela, street. President Chavez is supposed to be sworn in Thursday, but his illness puts that in doubt.

– Venezuelan lawmakers will meet today in a session that could shed light on what steps may be taken if President Hugo Chavez is too sick to be sworn in for a new term next week.

Legislators will choose a president, two vice presidents and other leaders of the National Assembly, which is controlled by a pro-Chavez majority. Whoever is elected National Assembly president could end up being the interim president of Venezuela if Chavez is unable to be inaugurated on Thursday as scheduled.

Brewing disagreements over how to handle a possible transition of power also could be aired at the session, coming just five days before the scheduled inauguration day specified in the constitution. Chavez’s health crisis has raised contentious questions ahead of the swearing-in, including whether the inauguration could legally be postponed.

The government revealed this week that Chavez is fighting a severe lung infection and receiving treatment for “respiratory deficiency” more than three weeks after undergoing cancer surgery in Cuba. The announcement suggests a deepening crisis for the 58-year-old president and has fed speculation that he likely is not well enough to travel to Caracas for the inauguration.

National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello called on Chavez backers to show up for the legislative session and demonstrate their support.

“This National Assembly is revolutionary and socialist. It will remain beside the people and our commander,” Cabello said in one of several messages on his Twitter account. “If the opposition thinks it will find a space in the National Assembly to conspire against the people, it’s mistaken once again. It will be defeated.”

Opposition leaders have demanded that the government provide more specific information about Chavez’s condition and say a new election should be held within 30 days if the president doesn’t return to Venezuela by inauguration day.

Some Chavez allies say the inauguration date is not a hard deadline and argue that the president should be given more time to recover from his surgery if necessary.

Chavez hasn’t spoken publicly or been seen since his Dec. 11 operation in Cuba.

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