UK & World News
Chavez To Miss Inauguration In Venezuela
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is too ill to attend his planned inauguration on Thursday, and will be sworn in for a new term at a later date.
The announcement came in a letter from Venezuela's vice president Nicolas Maduro to the country's legislature, and was later approved by the country's National Assembly.
Mr Maduro wrote that, upon his medical team's recommendations, the 58-year-old socialist leader's illness would keep him in a Cuban hospital past the key date.
President Chavez, who has dominated the South American nation since 1999, has not been heard from since he underwent surgery on December 11 in Havana - his fourth operation since he was diagnosed with an undisclosed type of cancer in June 2011.
The unprecedented silence by the president - famous for regularly speaking for hours in meandering broadcasts - has left many convinced he could be in his last days.
Mr Maduro, who is Mr Chavez's chosen successor, said the president was invoking a provision in the constitution allowing him to be sworn in before the Supreme Court at a "later date".
The letter added that the former soldier's condition was an "irrefutable unexpected reason" that made it impossible for him to attend the scheduled inauguration ceremony in Caracas.
The delay has outraged opposition leaders who insist that Mr Chavez must be sworn in before the National Assembly on January 10 as laid out in the constitution, or temporarily step aside and leave an ally in power.
But Government leaders insist Mr Chavez is completely fulfilling his duties as head of state, even though official medical bulletins say he has a severe pulmonary infection and has had trouble breathing.
President Chavez's resignation or death would upend politics in the oil-rich nation, where he enjoys a deity-like status among poor supporters thankful for his social largesse.
His critics call him a fledgling dictator who has squandered billions of dollars from crude sales while dashing the independence of state institutions.
While leaders of both pro- and anti-Chavez camps say they do not expect violence to break out immediately, the dispute could lead to opposition questions about the legitimacy of government officials serving past the scheduled inauguration date.
The United States said it hoped the Venezuelan president would get better soon.
"Obviously we are, as we would be for anybody suffering what he is suffering, concerned for his health, and wishing a speedy recovery," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.