Chavez's health sparks crisis in Venezuela

Opposition calls for Supreme Court ruling on whether ailing president's inauguration can be delayed.

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CARACAS // Venezuela's opposition yesterday said it would ask the supreme court to rule on whether the constitution allowed a delay in the swearing-in of the president, Hugo Chavez, who has been treated for cancer.

The announcement, by the opposition leader, Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, comes after Congress voted to postpone the inauguration, which had been scheduled for today.

It takes place against a backdrop of claims that the government was not providing all the information about the health of Mr Chavez, who underwent his fourth cancer-related surgery in Cuba last month and has not spoken publicly for a month.

"It's very evident that he isn't governing," said Mr Aveledo. "What they want us to believe is that he's governing, and they're lying." He said the National Assembly president should take over temporarily as interim leader, and that the supreme court should appoint a panel of doctors to determine Mr Chavez's condition and whether he was fit to remain in office.

Mr Chavez won a fourth term as president last October. The National Assembly, which is dominated by his allies, voted on Tuesday to allow him to be sworn in at a later date.

Government officials said the constitution allows the court to swear in a new president and argue that the clause does not specify a date. It was unclear what the opposition could do, beyond seeking a court decision, to challenge the plan.