Chavez funeral begins in Venezuela

The state funeral of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is under way in the capital, Caracas. About 30 world leaders are attending the ceremony in the military academy and huge crowds of his supporters are gathered outside. Later, Vice-President Nicolas Maduro is due to be sworn in as acting president. He must call elections within 30 days.

Hugo Chavez, who led Venezuela for 14 years, died on Tuesday aged 58 after a long battle with cancer.

Vice-President Maduro began the ceremony by laying on Mr Chavez’s coffin the sword of Simon Bolivar – the 19th-Century independence leader he claimed as his inspiration.

Successive honour guards were formed to stand in silence beside the coffin.

The first were formed by Latin American and Caribbean leaders – including President Raul Castro of Cuba, Sebastian Pinera of Chile and Rafael Correa of Ecuador.

Another guard was formed by Mr Chavez’s allies from outside the region, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus.

Further groups were made up of prominent Venezuelans, including Formula One driver Pastor Maldonado and the conductor Carlos Dudamel.

Mourners inside the venue chanted “Chavez did not die, he multiplied!”

Outside, huge crowds dressed in the red sang “Chavez lives!” and “The struggle continues!”

More than two million people have filed past Mr Chavez’s coffin, and his body is to be embalmed and put on permanent display.

Chavez ‘the martyr’

Also attending is Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has praised Mr Chavez as a “martyr” and a “wise and revolutionary leader”.

Congressman Gregory Meeks and former Congressman William Delahunt will represent the US at the funeral of Mr Chavez, a fierce critic of Washington.

Mr Maduro said that Mr Chavez’s body would be embalmed “like Lenin and Mao Zedong”.

The body will be moved to the Caracas military museum where in 1992 Mr Chavez – as an army officer – was captured after leading a failed coup.

The building will be converted into a new “museum of the revolution”, Mr Maduro said.

Mr Chavez’s supporters want him eventually interred in Venezuela’s national Pantheon alongside Simon Bolivar, the 19th-Century independence leader the late president claimed as his political inspiration.

However, under Venezuela’s constitution, people may only be admitted to the Pantheon 25 years after their death.

Mr Chavez was re-elected for a fourth term as president last October after saying he had recovered from his illness.

He named Mr Maduro as his preferred successor following the recurrence of his cancer.

The Vice-President is to be sworn in as acting president after the funeral in a special session of the National Assembly.

But the main opposition coalition says it will boycott the ceremony, arguing that he has no constitutional right to the job.

Under Venezuela’s constitution, elections must be called within 30 days.

Source: BBC

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