Latin America & Caribbean

Hugo Chavez allies 'rule out new election'

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Media captionPresident Chavez underwent cancer surgery in Cuba two weeks ago

Venezuela will not call fresh elections if President Hugo Chavez is unable to be sworn in on 10 January for a fourth term, National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello has said.

Mr Chavez is recovering from a respiratory infection suffered after his fourth cancer surgery in Cuba.

The constitution states that elections must be held within 30 days if there is an "absolute absence" of the president.

Opposition leaders say postponing the inauguration would be unconstitutional.

Mr Cabello said the swearing-in ceremony would be delayed in the case of Mr Chavez's absence.

"The date of 10 January does not determine the president-elect's absolute absence," Mr Cabello told reporters.

The Venezuelan constitution states that a president shall be considered "absolutely absent" for a number of reasons including death, resignation or removal from office by the Supreme Court, as well as permanent physical or mental disability.

"Since [President] Chavez might not be here on 10 January, [the opposition] hopes the National Assembly will call elections. That's not going to happen. Commandante Hugo Chavez will continue to be our president," Mr Cabello said.

According to Mr Cabello, the constitution allows him to be sworn in before Supreme Court justices, but it does not stipulating when or where.

Mr Chavez is said to be in stable condition following a respiratory infection suffered after he underwent major cancer surgery last Tuesday.

Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas said the infection had been controlled, but that Mr Chavez had been told to rest.

The president, who has been in power since 1999, won another six-year term in October's presidential election.

Mr Chavez has said Venezuelans should vote for Vice-President Nicolas Maduro in fresh elections, should his health fail.

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