Venezuela VP: Chavez could be sworn in by court

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As for the government, he said it appears to be playing its cards for its purposes. “The government wants more time, whether to see if Chavez gets better, or to consolidate their ranks and further splinter and demoralize the opposition,” Shifter said.

Venezuelan lawmakers will meet Saturday in a session that could shed more light on what steps Chavez’s allies plan to take.

Legislators will choose a president, two vice presidents and other leaders of the National Assembly, which is controlled by a pro-Chavez majority. Whoever is elected National Assembly president could eventually end up being the interim president of Venezuela under some circumstances.

Brewing disagreements over how to handle a possible transition of power could be aired at the session, coming just five days before the scheduled inauguration day specified in the constitution.

“If the opposition thinks it will find a space in the National Assembly to conspire against the people, it’s mistaken once again. It will be defeated,” National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said in a message on Twitter on Friday, saying the legislature will stand with Chavez.

The government revealed this week that Chavez is fighting a severe lung infection and receiving treatment for “respiratory deficiency” more than three weeks after undergoing cancer surgery in Cuba.

Chavez hasn’t spoken publicly or been seen since his Dec. 11 operation in Cuba, and the latest announcement suggests a deepening crisis for the 58-year-old president.

But Maduro criticized rumors surrounding Chavez’s condition, saying: “He has a right to his privacy, and to recover.”

The government’s account of Chavez’s complications raised the possibility that he might be breathing with the assistance of a machine. But the government did not address that question and didn’t give details of the president’s treatment.

Independent medical experts consulted by The Associated Press said the government’s account indicated a potentially dangerous turn in Chavez’s condition, but said it’s unclear whether he is attached to a ventilator.

Dr. Gustavo Medrano, a lung specialist at the Centro Medico hospital in Caracas, said he has seen similar cases in cancer patients who have undergone surgery, and “in general it’s very bad, above all after a surgery like the one they performed on him.”

“I don’t know the magnitude of the infection he has, how much of his lungs have been compromised, how much other organs are being affected. That’s not clear,” Medrano said.

“What’s most likely is that he’s on mechanical ventilation,” Medrano added. However, he said, while respiratory deficiency means there is an abnormally low concentration of oxygen in the blood, depending on the severity it can be treated in various ways.

Dr. Michael Pishvaian, an oncologist at Georgetown University’s Lombardi Cancer Center in Washington, agreed that such respiratory infections can run the gamut from “a mild infection requiring antibiotics and supplemental oxygen to life-threatening respiratory complications.”

“It could be a very ominous sign,” Pishvaian said. He said it’s possible Chavez could be on “life support,” but added it’s impossible to be sure without more details.

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