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Maduro sworn in as Venezuela's acting president

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-03-09 09:53

Maduro sworn in as Venezuela's acting president

Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolas Maduro, back left, stands with ministers and the armed forces over the coffin of late President Hugo Chavez at the Military Academy in Caracas March 8, 2013. [Photo/Agencies]

CARACAS - Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolas Maduro was officially sworn in on Friday as the country's acting president, following the death of President Hugo Chavez on Tuesday.

Maduro took the oath of office at a special session of the National Assembly attended by national deputies, government officials and international guests.

"I swear in the name of our children, workers, soldiers and farmers in the country, and I swear in the name of absolute loyalty to commander Hugo Chavez. We will enforce the Bolivarian Constitution. I swear," he said.

Afterwards, National Assembly Speaker Diosdado Cabello conferred the presidential band and necklace of Simon Bolivar, the symbol of the presidency, to Maduro. The participants sang the national anthem and offered him congratulations.

"Pardon our sorrow and our tears, but this band belongs to Hugo Chavez, the presidency corresponds to Hugo Chavez," Maduro said, sobbing.

He said he would appoint Jorge Arreaza, a former science and technology minister, as the new vice-president.

Maduro added that he had asked Tibisay Lucena, president of the National Electoral Council, to immediately prepare for presidential elections in line with Venezuelan law.

"Officially I asked her to comply with all legal and constitutional ends of the country and the mandate of Article 233, to immediately convene elections for the people of Venezuela so that they will know who will be the president of the republic, in a democratic way," he said.

Maduro urged the electoral authorities to conduct appropriate assessments and decide on the date of the elections.

"We are ready to go to elections without fear. We feel confident of Venezuelan democracy. Whoever deserves to win will win, decided by the people," he said.

He said he assumed the presidency "to protect the people, and to defend socialism and take forward and enforce its legacy".

"I'm not here for personal ambition. I'm here to enforce the order of Hugo Chavez," Maduro said.

The acting president arrived only minutes earlier before the ceremony, accompanied by government ministers, amid supporters' chants.

Cabello said swearing in a president in charge after the death of Chavez is "mandatory and is constitutional", refuting opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who condemned the Supreme Court's ruling to allow Maduro to be sworn in as acting president and run for president without leaving his office as a constitutional fraud.

Capriles lost to Chavez in last year's presidential election.

"While the country is mourning, the Supreme Court issues a judgment with political content, constitutional fraud, and I think it is important that the world knows these abuses," Capriles told a press conference.

But the court argued that its verdict was made based on Article 233 of the Constitution, saying "The executive vice-president becomes acting president and ceases his previous post."

"The electoral organization can admit the acting president to participate in the presidential election," the verdict added. "During the electoral process of electing the president, the acting president is not obliged to withdraw from the post."

Capriles refuted the ruling by evoking Article 57 of the Electoral Process Law, which stipulates only candidates running for offices they are holding do not have to leave their posts.

After calling a new election and setting a date for application, the vice president should leave his post and register as a full-time presidential candidate, he said.

He also urged the court to respect the will of the people, saying only the people have the right to decide who will be the president.

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