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Venezuelan VP to visit ailing Chavez in Cuba again

Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro (C) speaks next to Venezuelan Oil and Mines Minister Rafael Ramirez
Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro (C) speaks next to Venezuelan Oil and Mines Minister Rafael Ramirez in Caracas on January 11, 2013.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro said he would visit ailing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Cuba on Friday, a day after the leftist leader's inauguration in Caracas was replaced by a huge rally.

The vice president, handpicked by Chavez as political heir, has been at the center of the oil-rich nation's response since it was announced that its fiery president had suffered complications after a fourth round of cancer surgery.

Maduro, 50, has delivered somber updates about the absent leader's delicate condition which has plunged Venezuela into uncertainty in the past month, with the opposition calling for a medical board to assess Chavez's condition.

That demand was rejected by the Supreme Court, and in his latest update Maduro -- who previously visited Chavez -- said that on the the upcoming trip he would relay details of support received from regional leaders.

"I will continue this work of visiting the family, meeting with the medical team, visiting our comandante Chavez and presenting him with the good news of a nation at work," Maduro said when visiting the headquarters of oil giant PDVSA.

Maduro said he would tell the 58-year-old president about the visit of 20 Latin American delegations, including heads of state, during Thursday symbolic inauguration.

Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner, meanwhile, wrote on Twitter that she was already in Havana on Friday with a Bible for her cancer-stricken "friend" Chavez.

But it was unclear whether she would get to see Chavez, who has been out of public sight since undergoing a fourth round of surgery on December 11. Her government said she would seek an update on his condition.

A man walks past a mural of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, on January 11, 2013
A man walks past a mural of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, on January 11, 2013.

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala was also expected to be in Havana on Friday and Saturday.

In power for 14 years and re-elected in October, Chavez was supposed to be sworn in to a new six year term on Thursday, but the government indefinitely postponed the event after the president suffered a severe lung infection.

Despite the charismatic leader's absence, thousands of fervent supporters swore "absolute loyalty" to Chavez during a rally that day.

Several regional leaders turned up, including fellow leftist presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Jose Mujica of Uruguay.

The opposition meanwhile called for counter-demonstrations on January 23, the day in 1958 that began Venezuela's modern democratic era with the ouster of its last military dictatorship.

Leopoldo Lopez, an opposition leader, said Chavez's failure to turn up to his own ceremony had created "an undefined situation in which we can be without a president, and without clear signs that the president is governing."

The Supreme Court has ruled the cancer-stricken Chavez can postpone his swearing-in indefinitely, and the government has not given an indication of when the leader might return.

It was the last legal hurdle to a government plan for resolving the vacuum created by Chavez's illness that met fierce resistance from the opposition, which had argued it was unconstitutional.

In a significant endorsement, the head of the Organization of American States said in Washington on Friday that the hemispheric body "fully respects" the decision to indefinitely postpone Chavez's swearing in.

"The issue has been resolved by the three branches of government of Venezuela: it was presented by the executive, considered by the legislature and decided by the judiciary," OAS secretary general Jose Miguel Insulza said.

A man wears a T-shirt reading 'Oh! Ah! Chavez is not leaving' on a street of Caracas, on January 11, 2013
A man wears a T-shirt reading "Oh! Ah! Chavez is not leaving" on a street of Caracas, on January 11, 2013.

Opposition coalition leader Ramon Guillermo Aveledo said he was "deeply disappointed" by the OAS statement.

The Venezuelan constitution says new elections must be held within 30 days if the president dies or is permanently incapacitated either before he can be sworn in to a new term or in the first four years of his mandate.

On Thursday, pro-Chavez masses poured out of buses from the early morning to rally behind the government in a celebration that was by turns festive and fervent.

A sea of red shirts and flags, the color of Chavez's socialist movement, filled the avenue in front of the Miraflores presidential palace where participants took a symbolic oath for the absent leader.

"Comandante, get better, because this people has sworn and is going to show absolute loyalty. So we have sworn. Long live Chavez!" Maduro said as he led the oath, accusing the opposition of harboring desires for a coup.

Maduro has assured that he will give up the reins as soon as Chavez gets better.