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Stricken Chavez will miss his inauguration

President Hugo Chavez will not attend his scheduled swearing-in this week, Venezuela's government announced today, confirming suspicions that the leader's illness will keep him in a Cuban hospital past the key date.

Vice-President Nicolas Maduro broke the news in a letter to the National Assembly President, Diosdado Cabello, saying on the recommendation of Mr Chavez's medical team, his recovery process "should be extended beyond January 10" and for that reason he won't be able to attend Thursday's scheduled inauguration. The President, who won re-election three months ago, underwent his fourth cancer-related surgery in Cuba last month.

Mr Maduro said Mr Chavez was invoking a provision in the constitution allowing him to be sworn in before the Supreme Court at a "later date". However, tensions between the government and opposition have been building over whether the ailing President's swearing-in can legally be postponed.

The opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, said the Supreme Court should rule in the matter while others have argued that the National Assembly President should take over as interim president.