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CARACAS: Saluting, clenching fists and making the Roman Catholic sign of the cross over Hugo Chavez’s casket, Venezuelans crowded yesterday to see their deceased leader one last time and pledge that his socialist revolution will not die.
Grieving supporters lined around a grandiose military academy in a mass show of devotion to Chavez, who died on Tuesday at age 58 after a two-year battle with cancer.
More than two million people have already paid their respects. From soldiers in fatigues to officers in ceremonial dress, senior ministers to residents of the slums where Chavez was most loved, those in line vowed to defend his legacy and back his preferred heir, acting President Nicolas Maduro, in a new vote.
Chavez was dressed in an army uniform and a signature red beret like the one he wore in a 1992 speech to the nation that launched his political career after he led a failed coup.
People were given just a few seconds to glance at Chavez’s body inside the relatively simple wooden coffin, with a glass top and draped in flowers and a Venezuelan flag.
One government source said Chavez slipped into a coma on Monday and died the next day of respiratory failure after a rapid deterioration from the weekend, when he had held a five-hour meeting with ministers at his bedside.
The cancer had spread to his lungs, the source added.
There is uncertainty over exactly when a presidential vote will be held.