The Venezuelan government has said President Hugo Chavez can begin his new six-year term in office, even if he is too ill to attend a swearing-in ceremony.
Report by BBC
Vice-President Nicolas Maduro said the Supreme Court could swear in Chavez at a later date.
He dismissed opposition calls for new elections should Chavez not attend.
Chavez is in Cuba struggling to recover from his latest round of surgery to treat cancer. He has not been seen in public since the operation more than three weeks ago.
Observers have different interpretations of what it would mean if Chavez misses his inauguration on Thursday.
Some in the opposition have said that if Chavez is still in Cuba, power should pass to the head of the national assembly, and new elections should be held within 30 days.
But Maduro said Thursday was not a fixed deadline, and that there was no reason to declare Chavez’s “absolute absence” from office.
“The formality of his swearing-in can be resolved in the Supreme Court,” he said. “The president right now is president,” he said, waving a pocket-sized copy of the constitution.
“Don’t mess with the people. Respect democracy.”
The head of the main opposition coalition, Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, said the government “doesn’t want to admit that the president is absent”.
“The official version of what is happening is unsustainable,” he told reporters.
Officials have said that Chavez (58) has suffered from complications brought on by a severe lung infection that developed after his latest surgery.
Maduro said the president had “a right to rest and tranquillity, and to recuperate”. “We will have the commander well again.”
Maduro and National Assembly Head, Diosdado Cabello, visited Chavez in Cuba earlier in the week, along with several other dignitaries.
Maduro said Chavez was “conscious” and had gripped his hand firmly as they discussed Venezuelan politics.
He and Cabello dismissed rumours of a split in the governing socialist movement, after their return from Cuba.