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Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pays tribute to late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, during the funeral service at the Military Academy in Caracas.
CARACAS: Latin American leaders and US foes joined throngs of mourners at a state funeral for Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez yesterday, as the nation eyes life without him with the formal swearing-in of his political heir.
Venezuela has given a lavish farewell to the leftist firebrand, with hundreds of thousands of people filing past his open casket nonstop since Wednesday to say goodbye to the man who was worshipped by the oil-rich nation’s poor.
Foreign Minister Elias Jaua and a crowd of flag-waving Chavez supporters greeted leaders who began to arrive at the military academy for the funeral, set to start at 11am (1530 GMT).
In the evening Nicolas Maduro, who was Chavez’s Vice-President, was to be named acting president and elections are expected to be called within 30 days.
Most Latin American leaders are attending the funeral, as well as bugbears of the West long courted by the anti-US Chavez, including Cuba’s Raul Castro, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Belarussian strongman Alexander Lukashenko.
Lukashenko, once dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” by the US, smiled and pumped his first at a crowd of Chavez supporters waving Venezuelan flags behind a fence in front of the academy’s entrance.
Chavez’s mother, Elena Frias, raised her arms toward the cheering crowd, crying and wiping her tears with a white handkerchief.
Ahmadinejad again expressed his condolences after he landed early Friday, saying “Chavez will never die, his soul and spirit are alive in the hearts of fighters.”
Leaders from Africa and the Caribbean were attending the funeral but European nations sent lower-level delegations while the US will be represented by its charge d’affaires and two Democratic Party politicians.
The former paratrooper, who died on Tuesday at age 58 after a long battle with cancer, will lie in state an extra seven days to allow him to be viewed by everybody who wants to.
He will then be embalmed “like Ho Chi Minh, Lenin and Mao” and kept in a glass casket “for eternity,” Maduro said on Thursday.
Maduro said the body will be taken to the “Mountain Barracks” in the January 23 slum that was a bastion of Chavez support, a facility that is now being converted into a Museum of the Revolution.
It was there that Chavez had spearheaded what proved to be a failed coup against then-president Carlos Andres Perez on February 4, 1992. His arrest turned him into a hero, leading to his first of many election victories in 1998.
But Maduro suggested that Chavez may one day be moved elsewhere, a nod to popular pressure for him to be taken to the national pantheon to lie alongside Latin American independence hero Simon Bolivar.
The government said more than two million people had come since Wednesday to get a glimpse of their hero.