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Venezuela court: Chavez swearing-in can be delayed

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 9, 2013 at 9:31 pm •  Published: January 9, 2013
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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's Supreme Court chief on Wednesday endorsed putting off President Hugo Chavez's inauguration, siding with the government in a heated dispute with the opposition while the ailing leader struggles with complications a month after cancer surgery in Cuba.

Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales made the statement after the opposition urged the top court to rule that the government was violating the constitution by delaying the swearing-in for a new term, which had been scheduled for Thursday. Lawmakers voted Tuesday to delay the ceremony, allowing Chavez to take the oath of office at an unspecified later date before the Supreme Court.

Morales also said the Supreme Court hasn't considered appointing a panel of doctors, as opposition politicians have demanded, to evaluate whether Chavez is fit to remain in office after remaining out of public view since before his Dec. 11 operation.

Her announcement seemed to pre-empt any opposition attempt to challenge the postponed inauguration. She announced the decision saying the inauguration can be performed before the Supreme Court, at a time and place to be determined.

"We know it's necessary, and undoubtedly the inauguration is going to be carried out, but at this time we can't anticipate when," Morales told reporters at a news conference.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles condemned the Supreme Court's endorsement of delaying the inauguration. "Institutions should not respond to the interests of a government," he said at a news conference.

The case that prompted the decision was brought not by the opposition but by a private lawyer, Marelys D'Arpino, a columnist for the pro-Chavez newspaper Vea. D'Arpino told The Associated Press that she decided to file the case last month because "it was necessary to straighten out" the matter before the court.

The constitutional debate takes place against a backdrop of complaints that the government isn't giving complete information about the condition of Chavez, who hasn't spoken publicly since his fourth cancer-related surgery in Cuba four weeks ago.

"It's very evident that he isn't governing, and what they want us to believe is that he's governing, and they're lying," opposition leader Ramon Guillermo Aveledo told the television channel Globovision. He insisted that the National Assembly president should take over temporarily as interim leader and that the Supreme Court should appoint a panel of doctors to determine Chavez's condition.

It was unclear how the opposition would respond to Morales' statement.

Venezuela's constitution says the oath of office should be taken before lawmakers in the National Assembly on Jan. 10. But the charter adds that if he is unable to be sworn in by the National Assembly, the president may take the oath before the Supreme Court, without explicitly stating a date.

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