Thousands of supporters of Hugo Chavez rallied outside his presidential palace in Caracas today in an alternative inauguration for a leader too ill to return home for the real thing.
Backers wearing T-shirts with the slogan “I am Chavez” waved flags while upbeat music from Mr Chavez’s presidential campaign blared from speakers, proclaiming: “Chavez, heart of the people!”
Mr Chavez, 58, is in hospital in Cuba after having cancer surgery.
The government organised the show of support on the streets outside Miraflores Palace on what was supposed to be his inauguration day. A swearing-in ceremony has been indefinitely postponed, despite opposition complaints.
“We came to show support, so he knows his nation is with him,” said Anny Marquez, a secretary and voluntary member of a civilian militia that Mr Chavez has built in recent years. “We’re with him in the good times as well as the bad.”
Presidents attending the “inauguration” from allied countries included Jose Mujica of Uruguay, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua. Opposition parties demanded details of Mr Chavez’s condition and said the delay of the formal swearing-in violated the constitution.
Vice-President Nicolas Maduro, whom Mr Chavez has designated his successor, said that even though yesterday’s event was not an official swearing-in, the ceremony would mark the start of a new term for the President following his re-election in October.