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Hugo Chavez opponent alleges conflicts are brewing within Venezuela's ruling party

An opponent of Hugo Chavez alleged Sunday that conflicts are brewing within Venezuela's ruling party and argued that alleged differences between the president's close confidants have prompted them to postpone the socialist leader's inauguration.

Opposition lawmaker Julio Borges told a news conference Sunday that a rivalry between Vice President Nicolas Maduro and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello was behind the postponement of Chavez's swearing-in ceremony. Chavez has not been able to return to Venezuela from Cuba following a Dec. 11 operation, his fourth surgery for an undisclosed type of pelvic cancer.

"While the president is sick in Havana, they have a power conflict," Borges said. "That's why they are engendering this violation of the constitution."

The Venezuelan Constitution states the presidential oath should be taken Jan. 10 before lawmakers in the National Assembly. But it says that the president may also take the oath of office before the Supreme Court if the president is unable to be sworn in before the assembly.

The government revealed last week that Chavez is fighting a severe lung infection and receiving treatment for "respiratory deficiency."

There have been no public signs of friction between Maduro and Cabello, who appeared side by side waving to supporters after a legislative session on Saturday. The two men have repeatedly rejected speculation they are at odds and have vowed to remain united.

"Come here, Nicolas. You're by brother, friend. They don't understand that," Cabello said, hugging Maduro before the crowd outside the National Assembly.

Borges, however, alleged that the two men were putting on a show.

"That big hug between Nicolas Maduro and Diosdado Cabello was set up to reflect unity that does not exist," he said.

Earlier Sunday, Venezuelan athletes who support Chavez prayed for the socialist leader's recovery.

Formula One driver Pastor Maldonado, IndyCar Series driver Ernesto Jose Viso and others attended a Mass at a church in downtown Caracas. Athletes wearing jackets with the colors and stars of Venezuela's flag stood before an altar, solemnly reciting prayers.

Maldonado, who is sponsored by Venezuela's state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, expressed confidence that Chavez would soon recover and return to Venezuela.

The F1 driver voiced hope that "very soon he's here with all of us."

Viso said he and millions of other Chavez supporters have "much faith that he's recovering."

"We wish him the best," Viso said.

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Christopher Toothaker on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ctoothaker