UK & World News
Hugo Chavez's Illness Leaves Power Vacuum
It seems almost certain that Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez will not be well enough to attend his own inauguration ceremony next Thursday, sparking a dispute between his supporters and opponents over what should happen next.
Venezuela finds itself in the middle of a power vacuum which Mr Chavez himself attempted to fill by telling people in the event of his death he wanted the Vice President Nicolas Maduro to be his successor.
Mr Chavez has not been seen for three weeks since he made the journey from Venezuela to Cuba for treatment for recurring cancer.
Officials in his government have said he is suffering from complications from the surgery - a "respiratory deficiency" following a severe lung infection.
They have described the 58-year-old's condition as "stable" but beyond that refuse to discuss further details about Mr Chavez's health or indeed what the long-term prognosis for him is.
That is central to Venezuela's current political crisis.
The opposition argues it is written in the country's constitution that if he is not well enough to attend his own inauguration then the country must hold fresh elections within 30 days.
But Mr Maduro says Mr Chavez can continue in office even if he is unable to take the oath of office next week.
Speaking on Venezuelan television, Mr Maduro said "the constitution allows him to be sworn in by the Supreme Court at a later date".
Mr Chavez's supporters want him to be given time to recover - but they've given no public indication that he is even getting better let alone whether he will make a full recovery or become fit enough to take up his role as President.
There are reports - which his supporters have been quick to dispel - of an internal power struggle within his own camp.
We know who Mr Chavez wants to continue his individual brand of socialism - yet others insist Diosdado Cabello, the current head of the National Assembly, should take over in the short-term.
In October Mr Chavez was elected for a fourth term in office having come to power in 1999.
He is one of the most visible, vocal and controversial leaders in the world - presenting his own weekly TV show and championing his own brand of revolutionary socialist policies.
People are divided over the legacy of Mr Chavez. He sought to create a new form of socialism with populist policies aimed at helping the poor with free health care, subsidised food and land reform.
But poverty and unemployment are still widespread in spite of the huge wealth his country enjoys from its vast oil reserves.
Mr Chavez has always denounced the wealthy elite but over time in power his critics say the champion of the poor turned himself into a dictator, changing Venezuela's constitution so he could keep running for office.
He has nationalised much of Venezuela's economy including the oil sector and his supporters say that's helped benefit the poor from oil export revenues.
But Mr Chavez's health and leadership are significant far beyond his country of 29 million people.
For decades he has been a counter to the regional and global power of Washington - a "bad boy" to the US.
A strident critic of America's foreign policy, he has been a thorn in Washington's side and has always been quick to offer shelter and vocal support to the countries America has struggled with.