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Venezuela's Chavez names Maduro vice-president

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez named Foreign Minister and former bus driver Nicolas Maduro as his new vice president on Wednesday in a Cabinet shake-up following his comfortable re-election.

Maduro, 49, replaces Elias Jaua, who will run for the governorship of Miranda state against defeated presidential candidate Henrique Capriles in the South American OPEC member's December gubernatorial elections.

An ex-union leader on the public bus service and foreign minister since 2006, Maduro has long been seen as a possible successor to Chavez along with several other senior allies.

He was frequently at his side in the most critical moments of Chavez's year of cancer treatment since mid-2011.

The possibility of a recurrence of the disease hangs over Chavez despite a surprisingly vigorous campaign before his convincing 11-point win on Sunday.

Should Chavez's cancer reappear and force him out of office within the first four years of his six-year term, the vice president would serve temporarily as president before a new election. If Chavez left office in the final two years, the vice president would serve out the rest of the term. Chavez, 58, has ruled Venezuela since 1999.

"I don't recommend anyone for the vice president's job," Chavez joked, naming Maduro during the formal proclamation of his presidential win by Venezuela's election board.

"Putting up with me is not easy!"

The affable Maduro's working-class background gives him more appeal than other officials among Chavez's supporters. He was elected in 2000 to parliament, where his combative defense of Chavez's socialism turned him into a favored protégé.

"He was a bus driver. How they mock him, the bourgeoisie," said Chavez, who depicts his socialist government as a protector of the masses against an evil capitalist elite.

In other changes, Interior Minister Tareck el Aissami, Presidential Office Minister Erika Farias and Indigenous Peoples' Minister Nicia Maldonada all left the Cabinet to fight for state governorships, the ruling Socialist Party said.

Replacements were not named.

'BACK ON MY FEET'

Capriles, the energetic Miranda state governor, said he had put Sunday's loss behind him and urged opposition supporters to rally once more for December's gubernatorial elections as a way of putting a brake on Chavez's power across Venezuela.

"I'm back on my feet. ... The tears have dried up," Capriles, who won 44 percent of the vote compared with 55 percent for Chavez, told a three-hour news conference late on Tuesday.

A business-friendly lawyer and career politician widely seen as the opposition's best leader of the Chavez era, Capriles, 40, plans to run for re-election in Miranda.

Having beaten a heavyweight Chavez ally for that post in 2008, Capriles will now take on another senior loyalist, Jaua, in the highest-profile race of the December 16 elections.

Members of the opposition coalition control seven of 23 states, and they hope to increase that number in December.

But Chavez's candidates will gain momentum from his re-election victory, especially as he won in all but two states.

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