Thousands of Venezuelans took part in an alternative inauguration ceremony for President Hugo Chavez today.
The Bolivarian revolutionary was due to be sworn in at the National Assembly but the ceremony has been delayed while he battles cancer in a Havana hospital.
But it didn't stop crowds thronging the streets outside Miraflores Palace waving flags and celebrating the start of Mr Chavez's fourth term in office.
Vice-President Nicolas Maduro said that 19 heads of state and ministers, including Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, had attended the would-be inauguration.
Mr Maduro - who Mr Chavez has urged his supporters to make the next president if he's unable to start his term - said they were discussing the Petrocaribe programme, which provides cheap fuel to Venezuela's leftist allies.
The vice-president insisted that the date still marked the start of Mr Chavez's fourth term after sweeping to victory in October polls with 55 per cent.
Mr Chavez's embittered opposition beg to differ, claiming the parliamentary no-show is a breach of the constitution and that National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello should head an interim administration ahead of fresh elections in 30 days.
Chavistas point out that the charter clearly allows the pledge to be taken in front of the Supreme Court if the incoming president can't make it before MPs. Further, it's up to the National Assembly to decide if a president's absence is permanent, with medical proof.
Parliament has already approved the absence and the Supreme Court unanimously agreed on Wednesday night.
Supreme Court president Luisa Estella Morales said as Mr Chavez was an incumbent president, the swearing-in was a formality that could be delayed.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles - who lost the October election - said he'd respect the decision but the court had become "politicised."
He appealed to the Washington-based Organisation of American States for an opinion.
The US has so far stayed silent on the constitutional debate, but has been seen gleefully rubbing its hands at the prospect of a Latin America without the charismatic Mr Chavez.
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