Tue, Jan 08, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Opposition urges protests over Chavez inauguration

AFP, CARACAS

A top Venezuelan opposition leader on Sunday called for street protests if the government goes ahead with a plan to delay the inauguration of ailing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has suffered complications following his latest round of cancer surgery.

Julio Borges, national coordinator of the opposition Justice First party, also promised to file complaints with unspecified international organizations if the constitutionally-mandated swearing-in ceremony does not take place on Thursday as scheduled.

“People should get ready to protest and rebel against what will be a failure to uphold the constitution,” Borges said.

Chavez was re-elected on Oct. 7 last year, despite his battle with cancer and the strongest opposition challenge yet to his 14-year rule.

Since then, Chavez has undergone a fourth round of surgery in Cuba and, according to the government, developed a “serious pulmonary infection” that has led to a “respiratory insufficiency.”

In the wake of the news that Chavez was suffering complications, Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro called the swearing-in ceremony a “formality” and said the 58-year-old’s inauguration can be delayed indefinitely without him having to give up the presidency.

With a pocket-sized constitution in hand, Maduro on Friday said that the charter provides “a dynamic flexibility” that allows the president to be sworn in before the Venezuelan Supreme Court at a later date.

The position was reaffirmed on Sunday by Venezuelan Attorney General Cilia Flores, who said in a television interview that Chavez “could be sworn in upon his return in front of the Supreme Court.”

However, Borges said that that would be unconstitutional.

“The constitution established a clear rule: When the president-elect cannot show up at his inauguration and his absence is absolute, then another popularly elected person must step in. In this case, it is the [Venezuelan] National Assembly speaker,” he said.

Under the country’s constitution, new elections must be held within 30 days if the president dies or is permanently incapacitated either before he takes office or in the first four years of his six-year term. The National Assembly speaker runs the country in the interim.

On Saturday, Chavez’s allies staged a show of unity by re-electing Diosdado Cabello of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela as assembly speaker.

The closing of ranks came as it emerged that it was all but certain that illness will keep Chavez from being sworn in on Thursday.

“The president will continue being president beyond Jan. 10, nobody should have any doubt about that,” Cabello said after his election, accusing the opposition of fomenting a “coup d’etat.”

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