Leaders and supporters bid farewell to Chavez

Heads of state and hundreds of thousands of other mourners gather in Venezuelan capital for Hugo Chavez's state funeral.

    Leaders from Latin America and beyond are in Venezuela's capital for the state funeral of late president Hugo Chavez.

    Hundreds of thousands of mourners attended Friday's funeral, which was to be followed by the swearing-in of his handpicked successor Vice President Nicolas Maduro.

    Thousands of buses brought people from all over the country to the capital, Caracas.

    Several world leaders including Cuban President Raul Castro attended the ceremony on Friday [Reuters]

    Fifty-five world leaders were expected at the funeral, including Cuba's Raul Castro, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Belarussian strongman Alexander Lukashenko, shunned by the West but long courted by the anti-US Chavez.

    Ahmadinejad expressed his condolences as he arrived in Venezuela early on Friday, calling Chavez "a symbol for all those who seek justice, love and peace in the world".

    Chavez, who died of cancer at the age of 58 on Tuesday, will be embalmed "like Ho Chi Minh, Lenin and Mao" and kept in a glass casket to be seen "for eternity," Maduro said.

    Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from the Military Academy in Caracas where Hugo Chavez's coffin is on display, said that there will be a formal funeral which will be taking place in there with speeches and eulogies to Chavez from world leaders who are attending the ceremony.

    He added that "tens of thousands of Chavez's most ardent supporters will be able to see his body when the doors open as soon as the funeral is over" with some of them waiting for up to six hours.

    "Hugo Chavez was a man 'of the people, for the people' as he always used to say and [the organisers] want this funeral to open up to let some of the people come in as well, not only the the VIP's."

    Al Jazeera's Teresa Bo, reporting from Chavez's hometown of Sabaneta, said that people there were "devastated". 

    "They're saying that even though in some areas of Venezuela people may call Chavez a dictator, for them he is a hero," she said. 

    She said that one of the residents told her that their "beloved president", as they knew him, used to visit his hometown quite often including one time in 2000 with Fidel Castro and most recently in February last year. 

    "Most of the people here are telling me that they are looking forward to what will come, and for the elections but they are sure that Hugo Chavez's socialist party will continue," our correspondent said.

    Call for elections

    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.

    The National Assembly president, Diosdado Cabello, said Maduro would be formally sworn in as acting president after the funeral and that he would "call for elections".

    The national electoral council is tasked with setting a date for elections, which must be called within 30 days under the constitution.

    Chavez was re-elected in October but never sworn in, as he travelled to Cuba for cancer surgery.

    The government said more than two million people had come to the military academy, where the late leader is laying in state, since Wednesday to get a glimpse of Chavez.

    His body lay in a half-open, glass-covered casket in the academy's hall, wearing olive green military fatigues, a black tie and the iconic red beret that became a symbol of his 14-year socialist rule.

    Some waited up 10 hours in the searing sun through the evening for a chance to file past his coffin and pay their respects.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera And Agencies


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