* Says no date set for new swearing-in ceremony
* Top supreme court judge says Chavez and VP Maduro remain
* Big rally planned for Thursday in Caracas
By Daniel Wallis and Eyanir Chinea
CARACAS, Jan 9 Venezuela's top court endorsed
the postponement of Hugo Chavez's inauguration this week and
ruled on Wednesday that the cancer-stricken president and his
deputy would continue in their roles, despite a cacophony of
Critics had argued the 58-year-old's absence from his own
swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 10 meant a caretaker president must
be appointed. Chavez has not been seen in public nor heard from
in almost a month following surgery in Cuba.
"Right now we cannot say when, how or where the president
will be sworn in," Supreme Court Chief Judge Luisa Morales told
a news conference.
"As president re-elect there is no interruption of
performance of duties ... The inauguration can be carried out at
a later date before the Supreme Court."
The decision opens the door in theory for Chavez to remain
in office for weeks or months more from a Cuban hospital bed -
though there is no evidence he is even conscious.
It leaves the South American country in the hands of Vice
President Nicolas Maduro, as de facto leader of the government.
The opposition say that is a brazen violation of the
constitution, and that Maduro should leave office on Thursday
when the current presidential term had been due to expire.
They say National Assembly boss Diosdado Cabello, another
powerful Chavez ally, should take over the running of the
country while new elections would be organized within 30 days.
Maduro would be the ruling Socialist Party's candidate.
Government leaders insist Chavez, 58, is fulfilling his
duties as head of state, even though official medical bulletins
say he suffered complications after the surgery, including a
severe lung infection, and has had trouble breathing.
His resignation or death would transform politics in the
OPEC nation, where he is revered by poor supporters thankful for
his social largesse, but denounced by opponents as a dictator.
RALLY PLANNED FOR THURSDAY
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost a presidential
election to Chavez in October, said the Supreme Court had become
politicized under the socialist leader's administration.
"The tribunal gave an interpretation (of the constitution)
in order to solve a problem that the government has," Capriles
told a news conference.
Moody's Investors Service warned on Wednesday that
Venezuela's sovereign credit rating, already at junk status,
faces short-term risks over any political transition.
Prices of Venezuela's widely traded bonds have soared lately
on Chavez's health woes, but dipped this week as investors'
expectations of a quick government change apparently faded.
The president has undergone four operations, as well as
weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, since being
diagnosed with an undisclosed type of cancer in his pelvic area
in June 2011.
He looked to have staged a remarkable recovery from the
illness last year, winning a new six-year term at a hard-fought
election in October. But within weeks of his victory he had to
return to Havana for more treatment.
The government has called for a huge rally outside the
Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas on Thursday, and
allied leaders such as Uruguay's Jose Mujica, Bolivia's Evo
Morales and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega have said they will visit
- despite Chavez's absence.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, a close friend, has
announced plans to visit Chavez in Cuba on Friday.
The unprecedented silence by Chavez, who is well known for
his hours-long rambling speeches, has convinced many Venezuelans
that his 14 years in power may be coming to an end.
Unlike after his previous operations in Cuba, no photographs
have been published of him recuperating, and social media in
Venezuela is buzzing with rumors he is on life support.
Cabello, the pugnacious head of the National Assembly, has
repeatedly ruled out taking over as caretaker president to order
a new presidential election, saying Chavez remains in charge.
"Tomorrow we will all go to the Miraflores palace," he told
a televised Socialist Party meeting on Wednesday. "The people
will be invested as president. We are all Chavez!"