Thousands of chanting supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have rallied outside his presidential palace in his honour on the day he should have been sworn in for a new six-year term.
Backers wearing T-shirts with the slogan "I am Chavez", waved flags waved flags on Thursday while upbeat music from Chavez's last presidential campaign blared from speakers, proclaiming: "Chavez, heart of the people!"
The government organised the usual show of support for the ailing leader 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.
The government invited leaders from across Latin America and the Caribbean to add political weight to the inauguration without an inauguree, while the domestic opposition demanded details about Chavez's state and called the delay of the formal swearing-in a violation of the constitution.
Presidents attending from allied countries included President Jose Mujica of Uruguay, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua.
Andres Izarra, former Venezuelan communications minister, told Al Jazeera that the rally represented a "celebration for all of Latin America".
"The fact that Chavez wasn't able to come to his inauguration has not stopped the political process from continuing," he said.
Vice-president Nicolas Maduro, whom Chavez designated his chosen successor last month, hosted a televised meeting with visiting leaders to discuss the Chavez-launched Petrocaribe programme, through which Venezuela provides fuel under preferential terms to allies.
Maduro said heads of state, foreign ministers and other officials from 19 countries had come to Caracas.
Maduro said the leaders would go to the presidential palace in the afternoon for the "main event".
He said earlier that even though it was not an official swearing-in, Thursday'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 at times surreal event was Chavez's absence from the balcony of the residential palace where he has so often spoken for hours to similar crowds, chiding his opponents and called for a socialist revolution.
As in past rallies before the president himself, Chavez's face beamed from shirts, signs, banners and murals. Nearly everyone wore the colour of his Bolivarian Revolution movement as the swelling crowd grew into a sea of red.
Hundreds of National Guard troops and police stood guard on street corners while hip-hop artists performed on stages set up along the avenue leading toward the presidential palace. Many in the crowd held up posters reading: "Now with Chavez more than ever."