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The Venezuelan government says President Chávez’s scheduled swearing-in ceremony next week can be postponed, and he can still begin a new six-year term.

The Vice President Nicolas Maduro justified the announcement by citing the constitution. It is seen as a clear indication that Chávez will be too ill to attend – and that no replacement or new election is being lined up.

Amid the uncertainty over the state of his health and rumours that he may be dying from cancer, the opposition argues that if the president is still in hospital in Cuba on January 10 then he will effectively be giving up power.

The government has admitted that Chávez has suffered complications following his fourth operation in 18 months, and a lung infection is causing breathing problems.

But in an attempt to reassure worried Venezuelans, the vice president says there is no need to declare his “complete absence” from office, triggering a new election.

Venezuelans are being called upon to celebrate “revolutionary unity” on Saturday, as the National Assembly votes on what is expected to be the formality of the speaker’s re-election.

The appeal comes from Diosdado Cabello, who has joined the vice president in accusing Western media of trying to destabilise the country.

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