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Chavez opponents demand answers on his condition

| Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, 6:48 p.m.

CARACAS — Venezuela's opposition pressed the government to reveal specifics of President Hugo Chavez's condition on Wednesday, criticizing the secrecy surrounding the ailing leader's health more than three weeks since his cancer surgery in Cuba.

Opposition coalition leader Ramon Guillermo Aveledo said at a news conference that the information provided by government officials “continues to be insufficient.”

Chavez has not been seen or heard from since the Dec. 11 operation, and Vice President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday said the president's condition remained “delicate” because of complications from a respiratory infection.

Maduro urged Venezuelans to ignore rumors about Chavez's condition.

Aveledo said the opposition has been respectful during Chavez's illness, arguing that “the secrecy is the source of the rumors.”

“They should tell the truth,” Aveledo said, noting that Maduro had pledged to provide full reports about Chavez's condition. He reiterated the opposition's call for the government to release a medical report and said all indications are that Chavez won't be able to be sworn in to begin a new term Jan. 10.

If Chavez can't take office on that date, Aveledo said the constitution is clear that the National Assembly president should then take over temporarily until a new election is held. He said what happens next in Venezuela should be guided by “the truth and the constitution.”

If Chavez dies or is unable to continue in office, the Venezuelan constitution says a new election should be held within 30 days.

With rumors swirling that Chavez had taken a turn for the worse, Maduro said on Tuesday that he had met with the president twice, had spoken with him and would return to Caracas on Wednesday.

“He's totally conscious of the complexity of his post-operative state and he expressly asked us ... to keep the nation informed always, always with the truth, as hard as it may be in certain circumstances,” Maduro said in the prerecorded interview.

Both supporters and opponents of Chavez have been on edge in the past week amid shifting signals from the government about the president's health. Officials have reported a series of ups and downs in his recovery — the most recent, on Sunday, announcing that he faced the new complications from a respiratory infection.

Maduro did not provide any new details about Chavez's complications during Tuesday's interview. But he joined other Chavez allies in urging Venezuelans to ignore gossip, saying rumors were being spread because of “the hatred of the enemies of Venezuela.”

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