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VP: Ailing Chavez is Venezuela’s president even if he misses inauguration

CARACAS, Venezuelan - Vice President Nicolás Maduro will remain at the helm of this oil rich nation even if his ailing boss, Hugo Chávez, is unable to attend Thursday’s scheduled inauguration, Attorney General Cecilia Flores said Sunday.

The statement comes as some argue that the constitution requires National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello to become interim leader until Chávez, who is recovering from cancer surgery in Cuba, is fit enough to return.

“It will be just another normal day in Venezuela and the world,” Flores said of Thursday — when Chavez is to begin a new six-year term. “All five powers of the government will simply be working and fulfilling their duties.”

In an extensive interview with TeleSur television, Flores argued that, because Chávez is already president and has a fully staffed cabinet, Thursday’s inauguration is a mere formality, and that he can take his oath in front of the Supreme Court at a later date.

Opposition leaders argue that if Chávez is not present on Thursday to be sworn in by the National Assembly, as the constitution mandates, then Cabello – and not Maduro – should temporarily take the helm of the country.

Cabello, a longtime Chávez ally who was reelected as head of the legislature on Saturday, has not echoed that argument. And both Maduro and Cabello deny that they are fighting each other for control of Latin America’s fourth-largest economy.

Chávez traveled to Cuba on Dec. 11 to undergo a fourth-round of surgery to treat an undisclosed form of cancer. Since then, he has not been seen or heard from, which has fueled rumors that his health has taken a turn for the worse.

If he were to die or be permanently incapacitated, it would trigger snap elections within 30 days.

Before he traveled to the island, Chávez asked the administration to call new elections if he was unable to take office, and asked the country to rally around Maduro, his longtime foreign minister.

The opposition has been asking for independent verification that Chávez’s health.

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