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Venezuela's opposition leader says court should decide on postponement of Chavez's inauguration

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Jan. 8, 2013: Venezuelan embassy workers hold up a framed image of Venezuela's ailing President Hugo Chavez during the monthly Catholic service devoted to the sick at the Church of Our Lady of Regla, in Regla, across the bay from Havana, Cuba.AP

Venezuela's opposition leader said Tuesday that the Supreme Court should rule in a dispute between the opposition and President Hugo Chavez's government over whether the ailing leader's inauguration can legally be postponed.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said the constitution is clear that the current presidential term ends on Jan. 10. The president underwent his fourth cancer surgery in Cuba last month and hasn't spoken publicly in nearly a month.

Other opposition leaders have argued that the inauguration cannot legally be put off and that the National Assembly president should take over as interim president if Chavez hasn't returned from Cuba on inauguration day.

Chavez's allies have suggested the inauguration can be delayed past Thursday and carried out at a later date before the Supreme Court.

"There has to be a response by the Supreme Court," Capriles said, without saying whether the opposition would formally request a decision. "There is no monarchy here, and we aren't in Cuba."

Capriles lost to Chavez in presidential elections three months ago. He said Tuesday the government's stance appeared to add to a potentially conflictive atmosphere.

"I don't understand what they're looking for," Capriles told reporters. "Our country doesn't need hate. Our country doesn't need fights."

The opposition leader said he has spoken with various members of the military, and that they have told him "we are with the constitution."

The Venezuelan Constitution says the presidential oath should be taken before lawmakers in the National Assembly on Jan. 10. It says the president may also take the oath before the Supreme Court if he's unable to be sworn in before the assembly.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro has called the swearing-in a "formality" and said the opposition is erroneously interpreting the constitution. Chavez has said that if he's unable to continue on as president, Maduro should take his place and run in an election to replace him.

Capriles said, however, that "Maduro wasn't elected."

Chavez hasn't spoken publicly since before his Dec. 11 surgery in Cuba. The government said on Monday Chavez was is in a "stable situation" in a Cuban hospital receiving treatment due to a severe respiratory infection.