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Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolas Maduro is to deliver the annual state of the nation address to lawmakers on Tuesday in place of cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez, who is convalescing in Cuba.
Maduro, Chavez's chosen political heir, will give the speech in accordance with the constitution, due to Chavez's authorised leave of absence, the first vice president of the National Assembly, Dario Vivas, told Venezuelan radio.
The constitution stipulates that the president “personally” deliver the state of the nation address within 10 days of the swearing-in of the legislature, which took place on January 5.
Chavez however underwent a fourth round of cancer surgery more than a month ago in Havana, and he has not been seen or heard from since.
The 58-year-old leftist firebrand was to have been sworn in for a new term on January 10, following his re-election in October, but he was too sick to travel as he battles post-operative complications.
Authorities insist the Venezuelan constitution allows him to take the oath of office at a later time - a move the country's Supreme Court said was constitutional. The opposition has nevertheless cried foul.
On Sunday, Venezuela's information minister Ernesto Villegas said Chavez's condition was improving though he still required treatment for “respiratory failure.”
Former vice president Elias Jaua however said Chavez was still “fighting for his life.”
Uncertainty about his status has fuelled speculation about his prospects for a full recovery - and his political future.
Chavez's ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and the opposition have called for duelling rallies on January 23, the anniversary of the end of a rightwing dictatorship in the oil-rich country in 1958.
Maduro visited Havana over the weekend and saw Chavez. - Sapa-AFP