Venezuela will postpone the inauguration of President Hugo Chavez for a new term due to health problems, the government said.
The announcement angered opposition leaders who insist that Chavez must be sworn in before the National Assembly on January 10th, or temporarily step aside and leave an ally in power.
"The commander president wants us to inform that, based on his medical team's recommendations, the post-operative recovery should extend past January 10th," said Vice President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's chosen successor.
"As a result, he will not be able to be present at the National Assembly on that date."
Chavez has not been heard from since surgery on December 11th in Cuba - his fourth operation since he was diagnosed with an undisclosed type of cancer in June 2011.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's formal swearing-in for a new six-year term scheduled for 10 January can be postponed if he is unable to attend due to his struggle to recover from cancer surgery, his vice president said.
Nicolas Maduro's comments were the clearest yet that Venezuela's government is preparing to delay the swearing-in while avoiding naming a replacement or calling a new election in the South American OPEC nation.
But Mr Maduro, waving a copy of the constitution during an interview with state TV, said there was no problem if Chavez was sworn in at a later date by the nation's top court.
"The formality of his swearing-in can be resolved in the Supreme Court," he said.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is still suffering from a lung infection that has hindered his breathing as he battles to recover from cancer surgery, the government said.
Information Minister Ernesto Villegas, reading the latest official update on the president's condition in a hospital in Cuba, said: "Commander Chavez has faced complications as a result of a severe lung infection.
"This infection has caused a breathing insufficiency that requires Commander Chavez to strictly comply with medical treatment," the communique added, giving no further details.
The vice president of Venezuela says Hugo Chavez remains in a "complex and delicate" condition three weeks after cancer surgery.
Nicolas Maduro, speaking after visiting Chavez in Cuba, said he met his president twice and had spoken to him.
"He's totally conscious of the complexity of his post-operative state and he expressly asked us ... to keep the nation informed always, always with the truth, as hard as it may be in certain circumstances," Maduro added.