Venezuelan pro-Chavez rally marks missed inauguration

Crowds of supporters gathered outside the presidential palace in Caracas

Crowds of supporters of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez have rallied in Caracas to show their allegiance to the cancer-stricken leader on the day he was due to be inaugurated for a fourth term.

Speaking outside the presidential palace, Vice-President Nicolas Maduro led thousands of people in an oath of "absolute loyalty" to President Chavez.

The swearing-in ceremony has been indefinitely postponed.

Mr Chavez, 58, is in hospital in Cuba after undergoing cancer surgery.

Supporters, many with their faces painted in the colours of the Venezuelan flag, listened as leaders from the region, including Uruguay's Jose Mujica and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, praised President Chavez's work.

Continued uncertainty

Fighter jets performed a fly-past to the delight of the crowds gathered outside the Miraflores presidential palace.

Opposition parties have called for a counter-demonstration on 23 January, the anniversary of the removal from power of Venezuelan military ruler Marcos Perez Jimenez in 1958.

President Chavez's health continues to be "in a complex and difficult situation", Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said on Thursday without giving details.

In October, President Chavez was comfortably re-elected to another six-year term in office with 54% of the vote.

Two months later, he announced the cancer he had been treated for before, and which he had said he had been cured of, had returned.

He underwent cancer surgery on 11 December in Cuba and has not been or heard in public since.

On Tuesday, the National Assembly voted to give the ailing leader as much time as he needed to recover.

Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales said Mr Chavez could take the oath of office at a later date, adding that Mr Chavez's re-election had guaranteed "continuity" in government.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said the uncertainties thrown up by President Chavez's absence had not been ended by the court ruling.

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