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Venezuela delays Chávez inauguration

CARACAS – Ailing President Hugo Chávez cannot return home in time for his inauguration on Thursday and will take the oath of office at a later date before the Supreme Court, the government announced.

The announcement confirming that Chávez, 58, is too sick to make it back in time for Thursday’s inauguration came in a letter to the National Assembly from Vice President Nicolás Maduro.

“According to the recommendation of the medical team, … the process of post-operative recovery must extend beyond January 10 of the current year, reason for which he will not be able to appear on that date before the National Assembly,” the letter, which was read by National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello, stated.

The letter went on to say that in keeping with Article 231 of the Constitution, Chávez would take the oath before the Supreme Court at a later date. Chávez’s allies call the president’s swearing-in a “formality” that can be fulfilled sometime after Jan. 10.

The long-expected decision came amid a storm of controversy over whether his current term can be extended beyond Jan. 10, and calls by the opposition for the Supreme Court to intervene.

“I do not know what the judges of the Supreme Court are waiting for. Right now in Venezuela, without any doubt whatsoever, a constitutional conflict has arisen,” opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said.

The government plans to hold a huge pro-Chávez rally on Thursday – a reminder of the 55 percent support that won the leftist firebrand a convincing re-election.

A key opposition leader, meanwhile, had called for street protests on Thursday, raising the risks of confrontation in the country with the world’s largest proven oil reserves.

Throughout his illness, first detected in June 2011, Chávez has refused to relinquish the powers of the presidency, even when leaving for Cuba for his fourth and most difficult round of surgery.

Chávez is suffering from a severe pulmonary infection that has resulted in a “respiratory insufficiency,” officials have said.

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