Disputes brewing over Chavez's inauguration less than a week away
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - President Hugo Chavez is due to be sworn in for a new term in less than a week and his closest allies are still not saying what they plan to do if the ailing leader is unable to return from a Cuban hospital to take the oath of office.
Mr Chavez has not been seen or heard from since his Dec 11 cancer surgery, and speculation has grown that his illness could be reaching its final stages. The president's elder brother Adan and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello joined a parade of visitors who saw Mr Chavez in Havana this week, and then returned to Caracas on Thursday along with Vice-President Nicolas Maduro.
"In the past hours, we've been accompanying President Hugo Chavez and taking him the courage and strength of the Venezuelan people," Mr Maduro said on television. Appearing next to Mr Cabello visiting a government-run coffee plant in Caracas, he said they had been with Mr Chavez and the president's brother, his son-in-law Jorge Arreaza, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez and Attorney General Cilia Flores.
Mr Chavez's health crisis has raised contentious questions ahead of the swearing-in set for Jan 10, including whether the inauguration could legally be postponed, whether Supreme Court justices might travel to Havana to administer the oath of office, and, most of all, what will happen if Mr Chavez cannot begin his new term.