Hugo Chavez inauguration
Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez holds up a small copy of the constitution at a press conference with foreign journalists at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday Sept. 27, 2010. Venezuelan lawmakers decided to postpone Hugo Chavez’s inauguration for a later date as he battles his cancer in Cuba.  (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s decision to postpone the inauguration of President Hugo Chavez as he remains in Cuba battling cancer has prompted furious accusations from the opposition that the government is violating the constitution and should tell the country how ill the socialist leader really is.

But government officials argued the inauguration can legally take place at a later date before the Supreme Court and it is unclear what, if anything, the opposition can do to prevent the delay given courts perceived as being pro-government, public sympathy for Chavez as he fights for his life and varying interpretations of an at-times vague constitution.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro broke the news that Chavez would not be able to attend the scheduled inauguration in a letter to National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello. Then, later Tuesday, Venezuela’s National Assembly, which is dominated by Chavez’s allies, approved the proposal for Chavez to be sworn in at a later date before the Supreme Court.

The news sparked passionate debate in the assembly, with the opposition coalition arguing that if he is not sworn in on Thursday, Hugo Chavez must temporarily step aside and let the head of the National Assembly, Cabello, assume the presidency. Coalition leader Ramon Guillermo Aveledo wrote to the Organization of American States explaining their concerns, but other opposition leaders say there no plans for protests on inauguration day.

“What I won’t do is put people to fight against people,” opposition leader Henrique Capriles told reporters. “Our country doesn’t need hate. Our country doesn’t need fights.”

At the heart of the dispute are differing interpretations of Venezuela’s constitution, which says the oath of office should be taken before lawmakers in the National Assembly on Jan. 10, this Thursday. But the charter adds that if he is unable to be sworn in by the National Assembly, the president may take the oath before the Supreme Court.

Opponents argue that even if the oath is taken before the Supreme Court it should be on Jan. 10. Hugo Chavez’s allies argue that the charter doesn’t explicitly specify on what day it must take place, and this allows them to delay Thursday’s inauguration.

While leaders of both the pro- and anti-Chavez camps say they don’t expect violence to break out Thursday, the dispute could give the opposition grounds to question the legitimacy of government officials serving past the scheduled inauguration date.

Capriles said earlier Tuesday that Hugo Chavez’s current term constitutionally ends Thursday and that the Supreme Court should rule in the matter.

“There is no monarchy here, and we aren’t in Cuba,” he said. However, he added that he saw no reason to bring a formal challenge to the court because it was obliged to issue a ruling on the dispute.

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