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Venezuelan VP stands in for Chavez ; foes leave

| Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, 9:24 p.m.

CARACAS — Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro took the place of ailing President Hugo Chavez on Tuesday by delivering a short speech and turning in a state-of-the-nation report amid legal debate about his legitimacy.

Maduro submitted the report in writing from Chavez's government while the president remained in a Cuban hospital undergoing treatment after his fourth cancer-related surgery. Opposition politicians argued that the annual speech should have been postponed because the president is supposed to deliver it, and some walked out in protest.

Maduro announced during the speech, a day after visiting with Chavez in Cuba, that the president had designated former Vice President Elias Jaua as the new foreign minister.

Maduro had kept the foreign minister's post despite his appointment as vice president in October.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said the naming of Jaua as foreign minister should be reviewed because it was unclear under what authority the vice president was acting when such powers belong to the president alone.

Only a portion of the opposition lawmakers walked out of the session. “We have an illegitimate government,” said lawmaker Maria Corina Machado, one of about a dozen who left.

Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez rejected the opposition's allegations that the government was acting illegally by going ahead with the special legislative session.

“There's no constitutional controversy,” Ramirez told reporters, calling the politicians who walked out “the most extremist sector of the far right.”

Re-elected in October, Chavez has not made any public comments since his latest cancer surgery Dec. 11.

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