Allies lead pro-Chavez rallies across Venezuela



Caracas (Venezuela): Supporters of ailing President Hugo Chavez held rallies across Venezuela on Sunday and defended a controversial court ruling allowing the indefinite postponement of the socialist leader's inauguration.

Despite opposition claims the constitution required that the inauguration be held on January 10, the mostly pro-Chavez congress voted to delay the swearing-in ceremony. The Supreme Court endorsed the postponement, saying the president could take the oath of office before the court at a later date.

The government says Chavez, who won re-election to a fresh six-year term in October, is fighting a severe respiratory infection in a Cuban hospital. The president underwent his fourth cancer-related surgery on December 11. He hasn't spoken publicly or been seen since the operation.

In Havana, Cuban leader Raul Castro met yesterday with Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro, National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello, Attorney General Cilia Flores and Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez, all members of Chavez's inner circle.

Cuba's Juventud Rebelde newspaper published a photograph showing a smiling Castro greeting Cabello and Ramirez. In another photograph, Castro was shown bidding farewell yesterday to presidents Cristina Fernandez of Argentina and Ollanta Humala of Peru as they wrapped up visits to the communist-led island. Fernandez was also shown in several photographs meeting with former Cuban President and revolutionary icon Fidel Castro.

The newspaper's reports on the visits by Latin American leaders did not mention Chavez.

In Caracas, Elias Jaua, a close Chavez confidant, urged a crowd of government supporters gathered inside a packed auditorium to safeguard Chavez's "Bolivarian Revolution," a political movement taking its name from 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar.

Chavez backers "must be active in defense of the constitution, in defence of Commander Hugo Chavez's popular mandate," Jaua said.

Many government opponents claim the Supreme Court's decision violated the constitution. The opposition plans to present a case before the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights to challenge the court's decision.

Opposition politicians are also demanding more information regarding the health of Chavez.

Leopoldo Lopez, a prominent opposition leader, criticised government officials today for failing to provide details of Chavez's medical situation.

"The whole truth has not been told to the Venezuelan people," Lopez told a news conference.

PTI