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Venezuela’s top court upholds delay of Chávez oath

CARACAS – Venezuela’s Supreme Court on Wednesday said President Hugo Chávez could indefinitely postpone taking the oath of office for a new presidential term, and that his current administration could continue to govern in the meantime.

A panel of seven magistrates unanimously upheld the constitutionality of a delay amid a national debate over whether the cancer-stricken Chávez had to at least temporarily hand over power if he was unable to take the oath of office on Thursday, when his new term is to begin.

“The oath-taking of the re-elected president can be carried out at a time after January 10 before the Supreme Court, if it is not done on the said day before the National Assembly,” the court stated.

In the meantime, officials of the current administration “will continue fully exercising their functions under the principle of administrative continuity,” the ruling said.

Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales, who read the decision, also ruled out convening a medical board to assess the health of the president, who is in Cuba recovering from a fourth round of cancer surgery.

“At no time has the Supreme Court considered there is merit to convening a medical board,” she said.

“President Chávez, this honorable assembly grants you all the time that you need to attend to your illness and return to Venezuela when the unexpected cause [of your absence] has disappeared,” assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello said.

Opposition leaders argue that the constitution requires the president to be declared temporarily absent, and the presidency should be turned over to Cabello on an interim basis.

But the president’s top aides, including Cabello, disagreed, saying there would be no transition of power.

Chávez, 58, will have been absent from the country for a month on Thursday. He has been out of public view for the longest stretch of his 14 years in office, prompting widespread uncertainty as to his condition.

Government officials have said he is recovering from complications from surgery, including most recently a severe pulmonary infection that had resulted in respiratory complications.

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