Venezuela's Supreme Court chief has endorsed putting off President Hugo Chavez's inauguration, siding with the government in a heated dispute with the opposition.
The decision came as the ailing leader struggles with complications a month after cancer surgery in Cuba.
Supreme Court president Luisa Estella Morales made the statement after the opposition urged the top court to rule that the government was violating the constitution by delaying the swearing-in for a new term. Politicians voted on Tuesday to delay the ceremony, allowing Mr Chavez to take the oath of office at an unspecified later date before the Supreme Court.
Ms Morales also said the Supreme Court has not considered appointing a panel of doctors, as opposition politicians have demanded, to evaluate whether Mr Chavez is fit to remain in office after remaining out of public view since before his operation on December 11.
Her announcement seemed to pre-empt any opposition attempt to challenge the postponed inauguration. She announced the decision in response to a case brought by a single lawyer, and said the inauguration can be performed before the Supreme Court, at a time and place to be determined.
"We know it's necessary, and undoubtedly the inauguration is going to be carried out, but at this time we can't anticipate when," Ms Morales said.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles condemned the Supreme Court's endorsement of delaying the inauguration. He said: "Institutions should not respond to the interests of a government."
The constitutional debate takes place against a backdrop of complaints that the government is not giving complete information about the condition of Mr Chavez, who has not spoken publicly since his fourth cancer-related surgery in Cuba four weeks ago.
"It's very evident that he isn't governing, and what they want us to believe is that he's governing, and they're lying," opposition leader Ramon Guillermo Aveledo said.
He insisted that 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.