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    Chavez’s condition worsens; his supporters urge prayers

    CARACAS — President Hugo Chavez’s new complications after cancer surgery prompted his closest allies to call for Venezuelans to pray for him on Monday, presenting an increasingly bleak outlook and prompting growing speculation about whether the ailing leader has much longer to live.

    Vice President Nicolas Maduro looked weary and spoke with a solemn expression as he announced in a televised address from Havana on Sunday that Chavez confronts ‘‘new complications’’ due to a respiratory infection nearly three weeks after his operation. He described Chavez’s condition as delicate.

    The streets of Caracas were abuzz on Monday with talk of Chavez’s increasingly tough fight, while the news topped the front pages of the country’s newspapers.


    ‘‘He’s history now,’’ said Cesar Amaro, a street vendor selling newspapers and snacks at a kiosk in downtown Caracas. He motioned to a newspaper showing side-by-side photos of Maduro and the National Assembly’s president, Diosdado Cabello, and said politics will now turn to them.

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    Amaro said he expects a new election soon to replace Chavez. ‘‘For an illness like the one the president has, his days are numbered now,’’ he said matter-of-factly.

    A government-organized New Year’s Eve concert had been planned in a downtown plaza in Caracas, featuring popular Venezuelan bands, but was canceled due to Chavez’s condition.

    The president’s aides sang and prayed at a televised Mass held at the presidential palace, while Chavez’s allies urged Venezuelans to keep their president in their prayers.

    Political analyst Ricardo Sucre said the outlook for Chavez appears grim, saying Maduro’s body language during his televised appearance spoke volumes.


    ‘‘Everything suggests Chavez’s health situation hasn’t evolved as hoped,’’ Sucre said. He said Maduro probably remained in Havana to keep close watch on how Chavez’s condition develops.

    ‘‘These hours should be key to having a more definitive prognosis of Chavez’s health, and as a consequence make the corresponding political decisions according to the constitution,’’ Sucre said.

    Sucre and other Venezuelans said it seems increasingly unlikely that Chavez would be able to be sworn in as scheduled on Jan. 10.

    The Venezuelan leader has not been seen or heard from since undergoing his fourth cancer-related surgery Dec. 11, and government officials have said he might not return in time for his inauguration for a new six-year term.

    If Chavez dies or is unable to continue in office, the Venezuelan Constitution says that a new election should be held within 30 days.