Venezuela's leftist leadership has called for a massive show of support for ailing President Hugo Chavez in Caracas on January 10, the day he is supposed to be sworn in to a new six year term.
The request came on Monday as the government faced a rising storm of criticism over plans
to indefinitely delay Chavez's inauguration if the cancer-stricken leader, still in hospital in Havana, is too sick to be inaugurated.
"All of Venezuela will come here in front of the Miraflores presidential palace, the people supporting our president, the people supporting comandante Chavez - in an overwhelming manner, the people in the street," said National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello.
Cabello, who also heads Chavez' United Socialist Party of Venezuela, said heads of state and government were expected to attend the giant rally as well. Uruguay's President Jose Mujica confirmed that he would be in Caracas.
The Catholic church waded into the controversy, with a veiled warning to the government that it would be "morally unacceptable" to override the constitution and that Chavez's prolonged absence had put the country's stability at risk.
And a key opposition figure on Sunday called for street protests if the government pushes past the January 10 date without Chavez being sworn in.
The Venezuelan president, 58, has not been seen in public since he underwent a fourth round of cancer surgery in Cuba nearly a month ago, his longest absence of his 14 years in power.
Asked whether Chavez's presence in Caracas to take the oath of office on Thursday had been ruled out, Cabello said, "We rule out absolutely nothing.
"But we're not going to get to the 10th and not know what we are going to do. We know what we're going to do," he added.
The assembly speaker, considered the regime's third most powerful figure, insisted they were acting within the constitution and accused the opposition of organising a destabilising "civic strike".
"With respect to the call for protests and the civic strike, we are saying we are calling the people to the streets on the 10th," he said, adding that there would be no confrontations with the opposition.
"It's a day for the Venezuelan people, for the revolutionary people, to demand respect and recognition once and for all for this constitution of all the Venezuelan people," he said.
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