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Venezuela plans show of support for ailing Chavez

Venezuela`s government has organised what seems an alternative inauguration outside the presidential palace.

Caracas: Venezuela`s government has organised what seems an alternative inauguration outside the presidential palace on Thursday and is hosting regional leaders in an unusual show of support for ailing President Hugo Chavez, whose swearing-in ceremony has been indefinitely postponed.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro urged supporters to gather on a street outside Miraflores Palace to demonstrate their solidarity with Chavez, who remains in Cuba fighting complications after cancer surgery and hasn`t spoken publicly or been seen in more than a month.

"Everyone to the street," Maduro said at a televised Cabinet meeting on Wednesday night. "We`re going to have a great function in honour of President Chavez."

Leaders from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean were invited, as they normally would be for a formal inauguration. President Jose Mujica of Uruguay arrived yesterday, and other presidents expected to attend included Bolivia`s Evo Morales and Nicaragua`s Daniel Ortega.

Maduro said heads of state, foreign ministers and other officials from 19 countries had come to Caracas. The Vice President, whom Chavez designated his chosen successor last month, said that even though it wasn`t an official swearing-in, today`s event still marks the start of a new term for the president following his re-election in October.

"A historic period of this second decade of the 21st century is starting, with our commander leading," Maduro said.

But glaring above all in the planned event was Chavez`s absence from the presidential where he has so often spoken for hours on television, chided his opponents and called for a socialist revolution.

The Opposition, limping from two recent electoral defeats, seems powerless to effectively challenge the postponement of Chavez`s swearing-in, a legislative move that was endorsed yesterday by a Supreme Court widely viewed as favouring the government.

Apparently clinging to life in Cuba, unable to travel home or speak publicly, Chavez remains fully and legally in power.

The Opposition has been left complaining that there are no independent institutions or courts inside Venezuela for them to appeal to, and the world appears to be giving a collective shrug to their plight.

The door to a court challenge was slammed by Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales even before the opposition could file one. Morales announced yesterday that it was fine to delay the inauguration past the January 10 date set by the Constitution, saying the Supreme Court could handle the issue later, "at a time and place to be determined”.