Chavez allies re-elect Venezuela legislative president

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CARACAS, Venezuela -- Allies of cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez on Saturday chose to keep the same National Assembly president -- a man who could be in line to step in as a caretaker leader in some circumstances.

The vote to retain Diosdado Cabello as legislative leader signaled the ruling party's desire to stress unity and continuity amid growing signs the government plans to postpone Mr. Chavez's inauguration for a new term while he fights a severe respiratory infection nearly a month after cancer surgery in Cuba.

The opposition and some legal experts have argued that if Mr. Chavez is unable to be sworn in as scheduled Thursday, the president of the National Assembly should take over on an interim basis.

Mr. Cabello's selection quashed speculation about possible political reshuffling in the midst of Mr. Chavez's health crisis, and it came as Vice President Nicolas Maduro joined other allies in suggesting that Mr. Chavez could remain president and take the oath of office before the Supreme Court later on if he isn't fit to be sworn in on the scheduled date.

"It strikes me that the government has decided to put things on hold, to wait and see what happens with Mr. Chavez's health and other political factors, and figure out the best way to insure continuity," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington. "Maduro and Cabello are clearly the key players within Chavismo today, each heading separate factions, but for the time being the idea is to reaffirm both and project a sense of unity."

Mr. Cabello, a former military officer who is widely considered to wield influence in the military, was re-elected by a show of hands by Mr. Chavez's allies, who hold a majority of the 165 congressional seats.

Pro-Chavez party leaders ignored calls to include opposition lawmakers among the legislative leadership, and opposition lawmaker Ismael Garcia said the choices represented "intolerance."

Hundreds of Chavez supporters gathered outside the National Assembly to show their support, some holding flags and pictures of the president.

The Venezuelan Constitution says the presidential oath should be taken Thursday before the National Assembly. It also says that if Mr. Chavez dies or is declared incapacitated, a new election should be called and held within 30 days, and Mr. Chavez has said Mr. Maduro should be the candidate.

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