Sun, Mar 10, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Chavez protege takes over after funeral

ATTENDANCE:The state funeral was attended by Latin American, African and Caribbean leaders, while the US and European nations sent lower-level delegations

AFP, CARACAS

Nicolas Maduro took over as Venezuela’s acting president late on Friday in a ceremony rejected by the opposition after a tearful farewell to Hugo Chavez during a rousing state funeral for the firebrand leftist.

More than 30 heads of state paid tribute to Chavez as his body lay in state in a flag-covered coffin at a military academy, bringing the curtain down on a 14-year reign that divided the oil-rich nation.

“There you are, undefeated, pure, transparent, unique, true, alive forever,” Maduro said as his voice rose and cracked in a eulogy that both praised his mentor and railed against his opponents.

“Mission accomplished, comandante. The struggle goes on,” he said as the guests, ranging from Cuban President Raul Castro to Hollywood star Sean Penn, applauded in a ceremony filled with music, cheers and chants for Chavez.

Maduro was later sworn in as acting president at the Venezuelan National Assembly and named Chavez’s son-in-law, Jorge Arreaza, vice president before urging election authorities to “immediately” convene elections.

Maduro donned the presidential sash, his voice breaking as he said: “Sorry for these tears, but this presidency belongs to our comandante.”

The main opposition coalition boycotted the inauguration, saying that it was unconstitutional.

The ceremony set the stage for a bitter election campaign that must be called within 30 days, five months after Chavez beat a stronger challenger than he had been used to — Henrique Capriles, who will now likely face his former vice president.

The opposition has argued that the constitution calls for the National Assembly speaker to take over as interim leader.

Before the political battle began, the state funeral opened with Venezuelan conductor and Los Angeles Philharmonic maestro Gustavo Dudamel leading an orchestral rendition of the national anthem.

Several Latin American leaders, including Cuban President Raul Castro, were invited to stand in an honor guard around the coffin, which was closed and covered in the yellow, blue and red colors of Venezuela.

Chavez’s body will lie in state for seven more days and officials said it will be embalmed and preserved “like Lenin” to rest in a glass casket in the military barracks where he plotted a failed coup in 1992.

Venezuela is giving Chavez a long farewell, with hundreds of thousands of people filing past his open casket nonstop since Wednesday, one day after Chavez lost his two-year battle with cancer at age 58.

Some fainted from the heat, many spent the night outside to see the man who became a hero of the poor and villain of the rich with social programs funded by Venezuela’s vast oil wealth.

The doors reopened to the public after the funeral and the casket was half open again, allowing people to once more see his face.

In a country divided by Chavez’s populist style, opinions of his legacy vary, with opposition supporters in better-off neighborhoods angry at the runaway homicide rate, high inflation and expropriations.

Leaders from Africa and the Caribbean attended the funeral, but European nations sent lower-level delegations, while the US was represented by its charge d’affaires and two politicians from US President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party.

Although he expelled two US military attaches earlier this week, accusing them of plotting to destabilize Venezuela, Maduro welcomed US Representative Gregory Meeks of New York and former congressman Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts.

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