Venezuela will postpone the inauguration of President Hugo Chavez for a new term due to health problems, the government has confirmed.
Nicolas Maduro, the vice president, broke the news in a letter to National Assembly on Wednesday, saying "The commander president wants us to inform that, based on his medical team's recommendations, the post-operative recovery should extend past January 10."
"As a result, he will not be able to be present at the National Assembly on that date."
The letter said authorities would seek another date for the inauguration ceremony but did not say when it would take place, nor give any time frame for Chavez's recovery or his return from Havana.
Rather than being sworn in by the legislature, he would take his oath at a later date before the Supreme Court, the letter said, as allowed by the constitution.
The 58-year-old socialist leader, who has dominated the South American OPEC nation since 1999, has not been heard from or seen in public since his December 11 cancer surgery - his fourth - in Cuba.
The constitution says the president should begin a new term on January 10 but does not specify what happens if the president does not take office by that date.
The delay is another sign that Chavez's battle with an undisclosed form of cancer in the pelvic region may keep him
from ruling for a third term.
"The news here didn't surprise anyone, because the president's health hasn't improved in the last week," reported Al Jazeera's Teresa Bo from Caracas. "The latest health update that we had said that he is stationary, that he is still suffering from a lung infection that has generated some type of respitory insufficiency."
Chavez's resignation or death would upend politics in the oil-rich country that has grown accustomed to his charismatic but controversial leadership.
He has said that if he's unable to continue on as president, Maduro should take his place and run in an election to replace him.
Government leaders insist Chavez is completely fulfilling his duties as head of state, even though official medical bulletins say he has a severe pulmonary infection and has had troubled breathing.
The government has called for a massive rally of supporters outside the presidential palace on Thursday, and allies
including Uruguayan President Jose Mujica and Bolivian leader Evo Morales have confirmed they will visit Venezuela this week despite Chavez's absence.
Opposition leaders insist the government is running roughshod over the constitution by ignoring the specified inauguration date.
They say Congress head Diosdado Cabello, a key Chavez ally, should step in as a temporary president while Chavez recovers.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said earlier Tuesday that Chavez's current term constitutionally ends Thursday and that the Supreme Court should rule in the matter.