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Venezuelan regime calls for massive Chavez rally

08 january 2013, 13:00
Venezuela's leftist leadership has called for a massive show of support for ailing President Hugo Chavez in Caracas on Thursday -- the day he is supposed to be sworn in to a new six year term in office, AFP reports.

A rising storm of criticism has greeted plans to indefinitely delay Chavez's inauguration if the cancer-stricken leader is too sick to participate, with the nation's Catholic church the latest group to wade into the row.

Chavez, the communist firebrand and foe of the United States, underwent his fourth round of cancer surgery in Havana nearly a month ago, and is suffering from a severe pulmonary infection that has caused respiratory difficulties.

Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said late Monday that Chavez's health condition has remained "stationary" since the latest complication from surgery was reported four days ago.

What will happen on Thursday remains shrouded in doubt. But National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello said a huge rally would be held that day to show the public's support for Chavez.

"All of Venezuela will come here in front of the Miraflores presidential palace, the people supporting our president, the people supporting comandante Chavez -- in an overwhelming manner, the people in the street," he said.

Cabello, who also heads Chavez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela, defended the plan as constitutional, and said heads of state and government were also expected to attend the giant rally.

Uruguay's President Jose Mujica confirmed that he would be in Caracas.

The government, meanwhile, also gained support from Latin American heavyweight Brazil, which said a constitutional process was in place to assure continuity for up to 180 days in the event Chavez is unable to be sworn in.

But the Catholic church entered the controversy for the first time, with a veiled warning to the government that it would be "morally unacceptable" to override the constitution, noting that Chavez's prolonged absence had put the country's stability at risk.

A key opposition figure on Sunday called for demonstrations if the government pushes past the January 10 date without Chavez being sworn in.

The Venezuelan president, 58, has not been seen in public since he underwent his latest surgery. It is his longest absence during 14 years in power.

Asked whether Chavez's presence in Caracas to take the oath of office Thursday had been ruled out, Cabello said: "We rule out absolutely nothing."

"But we're not going to get to the 10th and not know what we are going to do. We know what we're going to do," he added.

The assembly speaker, considered the regime's third most powerful figure, insisted they were acting within the constitution and accused the opposition of organizing a destabilizing "civic strike."

"With respect to the call for protests and the civic strike, we are saying we are calling the people to the streets on the 10th," he said, adding that there would be no confrontations with the opposition.

Meanwhile, Marco Aurelio Garcia, a top advisor to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff who met in Havana last week with the Venezuelan leaders, said Brazil was not worried that the country will be destabilized.

He said he learned during his talks with the Venezuelans that there was "constitutional cover" if Chavez fails to show in Caracas on Thursday.

Garcia said the process involved setting a 90 day period, renewable for another 90 days, for the Venezuelan leader's absence, after which a decision would be made on whether he is permanently incapacitated.

Under the constitution, new elections must be held within 30 days if the president dies or is permanently incapacitated either before he takes office or in the first four years of his six-year term.

In that event, the National Assembly speaker is supposed to run the country in the interim.

"There would be concern in the Brazilian government, in Mercosur, in Unasur, if there were a concrete process of instability in Venezuela, and that is not happening," he said. Mercosur and Unasur are regional groupings that Venezuela belongs to.

But the opposition insists that under the constitution the current presidential period ends on January 10 and a new administration cannot take office unless Chavez is sworn in.

"People should get ready to protest and rebel against what will be a failure to uphold the constitution," said Julio Borges, national coordinator of the opposition Justice First party.

In a statement, the church said the president's prolonged sickness "puts at grave risk the political and social stability of the nation."

The public is "confused, and a good part of it angry," it said, because not a single medical report on his condition has been released.

"The government has not told the people the whole truth, which it has the full right to receive with certitude; it has only communicated, with evident difficulty, its political truth."

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