Crowds packed the streets around the presidential palace in Caracas on Thursday in a mass show of support for cancer-stricken Hugo Chavez as illness prevented the Venezuelan leader from being sworn in for a new term.
Tens of thousands of supporters waving flags and chanting slogans rallied outside the Miraflores Palace in a celebration on a day that was supposed to see the inauguration of the 58-year-old leader, who instead lay in a hospital bed in Cuba.
The government organised the rally as a reminder of the strength of support for Mr Chavez, who won a third term in office in elections last October, following controversy over the decision to indefinitely postpone the oath-taking ceremony.
Leaders from across Latin America and the Caribbean were invited to the Venezuelan capital to add political weight to the event, amid complaints by domestic opposition that the delay in the formal swearing-in was a violation of the constitution.
Presidents attending from allied countries included President Jose Mujica of Uruguay, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro insisted that Thursday's event still marks the start of a new term for President Chavez following his re-election in October.
"A historic period of this second decade of the 21st century is starting, with our commander leading," said Mr Maduro, who Mr Chavez named as his chosen successor before he left for Cuba a month ago.
Crowds of Venezuelans in red shirts, who were bussed in from across the nation to attend the event, brandished images of their president and chanted the slogan: "We are all Chavez."
Some wore copies of the yellow, blue and red presidential sash to show they were symbolically swearing in themselves in place of their firebrand leader. Many in the crowd held up posters reading: "Now with Chavez more than ever."
On Wednesday, despite calls from opposition politicians to rule otherwise, the country's supreme court cleared the indefinite postponement of the president's inauguration and said his administration could remain in office until he is well enough to take the oath.
The government has provided scant details of the true state of health of Mr Chavez, who is suffering from an undisclosed cancer to the pelvic area, first diagnosed 18 months ago.
The latest heath bulletin said his condition was "stable" after receiving treatment for "respiratory complications" following surgery on December 11.
But rumours persist that he is living is last days in a drug-induced coma and on an artificial breathing machine with his family at his bedside.
Opposition politicians have warned of the "power vacuum" left in Mr Chavez's absence and warned that anarchy may ensue if he is not declared "temporarily incapacitated" and an interim government established.
Leopold Lopez, an opposition leader, called it "an indefinite situation in which we can be without a president, and without clear signs that the president is governing".