CARACAS - Venezuela's ruling party Monday called a rally for later this month to counter one convened by opposition parties angry that the government remains in power even though President Hugo Chavez is too sick to preside over it.
The dueling rallies are scheduled for January 23, the anniversary of the end of a rightwing dictatorship in 1958.
The date is often used by supporters or critics of Chavez to hold street rallies, but this year it is particularly sensitive politically because Chavez is recovering in Cuba from his fourth round of cancer surgery, on December 11 in Havana.
The 58-year-old leftist firebrand was to have been sworn in January 10, but in the end he was still too sick to make the trip, as he battles post-operation complications.
Congress voted that the inauguration -- stemming from Chavez's re-election win in October -- can be delayed. The Supreme Court agreed.
Last week an opposition umbrella grouping whose Spanish acronym is MUD called a rally for January 23 to protest the fact that Chavez's government remains in power. It wants strict adherence to the constitution and an interim president to take over while new elections are prepared.
The ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, however, hit back Monday with a call for street crowds of its own to defend Chavez and his populist government.
"On January 23, the forces of the revolution are going to take to the streets," said party campaign manager Jorge Rodriguez.
Marches from the four corners of Caracas will empty into a neighborhood called 23 de Enero, a Chavez stronghold.
Henrique Capriles, the state governor whom Chavez beat in the October presidential election, has said he accepts the Supreme Court ruling allowing Chavez's swearing in to be postponed. He has yet to comment on the call for an opposition march on January 23.
Meanwhile, Chavez's handpicked political heir, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, thanked Fidel Castro and his brother Raul, the current president, for the care that Chavez is receiving in Havana, the communist party daily Granma said Monday.
Maduro visited Havana over the weekend and saw Chavez.
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