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Judge OK’s Chavez swearing-in delay

CARACAS — Venezuela’s Supreme Court chief said that the upcoming inauguration of President Hugo Chavez can legally be postponed, 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 Wednesday ­after the opposition urged the top court to rule that the government was violating the constitution by putting off 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 a later date before the Supreme Court.

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Morales also said that the Supreme Court has not considered appointing a panel of doctors, as opposition politicians have demanded, to evaluate whether Chavez is fit to remain in office after staying out of view since Dec. 11.

While the opposition has not filed a formal court challenge to the delayed inauguration, Morales said she was announcing the decision in response to a request for a legal opinion by a woman she didn’t identify. She said 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 press conference.

The constitutional debate takes place against a backdrop of complaints that the government isn’t giving complete information about the condition of Chavez.

“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 Venezuelan television channel Globovision. He asserted 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.

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