President Hugo Chavez's leftist government and its opponents held separate events Wednesday to commemorate the 55th anniversary of Venezuela's return to democracy.
Government partisans thronged the streets of west Caracas to remember the end of the 1952-1958 dictatorship of Marcos Perez Jimenez and to show solidarity with Chavez, who remains hospitalized in Cuba more than six weeks after undergoing his fourth cancer surgery since June 2011.
The opposition rallied at a park on the other side of the capital.
Coming two weeks after the Supreme Court's finding that Chavez could delay his inauguration - set for Jan. 10 - without creating a constitutional power vacuum, Wednesday's events highlighted the gap between government and opposition supporters.
The 58-year-old Chavez, who took office in 1999, was re-elected last Oct. 7 by a comfortable margin and is supposed to serve until 2019.
The MUD opposition coalition, in a manifesto read by chairman Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, proclaimed its right to criticize the Supreme Court's "monstrous and shameful" decision.
Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez in last year's presidential contest, said that if the head of state is well enough to joke with top aides visiting him in Cuba, he should telephone Venezuelan television to reassure the nation about his condition.
"If a person can make jokes, why not pick up the telephone and calm the Venezuelans?," Capriles said in an encounter with reporters.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro and the rest of the administration are using Chavez's image "to buy time" and avoid accountability, the Miranda state governor said.
Looking ahead to a possible special presidential election if Chavez cannot resume his duties, Capriles stressed his "commitment" to Venezuela.
The government announced Wednesday that it was beefing up security for Maduro and National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello after learning of a threat against their lives.
The precautions are based on intelligence reports about a plot involving "ultra-right" elements in Venezuela and abroad, Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said. EFE