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UPDATE 10-Global leaders, celebrities honor Chavez at funeral
March 9, 2013 / 12:05 AM / in 5 years

UPDATE 10-Global leaders, celebrities honor Chavez at funeral

* Acting President calls for immediate election
    * Chavez to be embalmed, on display "for eternity"
    * Chavez's favored successor leads in opinion polls

 (Updates with Maduro urges snap election, color, quotes)
    By Daniel Wallis and Mario Naranjo
    CARACAS, March 8 (Reuters) - From Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad to Oscar-winner Sean Penn, an eclectic mix of
mourners bid farewell on Friday to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez at a
state funeral, and the charismatic but divisive leader's deputy
called for a snap election to pick his successor. 
    Chavez died this week at age 58 after a two-year battle with
cancer, devastating millions of mostly poor supporters who
hailed him for plowing Venezuela's vast oil wealth into social
projects, but giving hope to foes who decried him as a dictator.
    A frequent visitor to Caracas and fellow "anti-imperialist,"
 Ahmadinejad received a standing ovation as he took his place in
a guard of honor by Chavez's coffin, then broke protocol to
touch the casket and clench his fist in a revolutionary salute. 
    "Commander, here you are undefeated, pure, living for all
time," Chavez's preferred successor, Nicolas Maduro, said over
the casket, his voice cracking with emotion. 
    "Your soul and spirit are so powerful that your body could
not hold them, and now they are traveling this universe, growing
with blessings and love." 
    The mourners chanted: "Chavez lives! The fight continues!" 
    Maduro, who will run in an election to succeed Chavez in the
next few weeks, was sworn in as acting president later on Friday
as residents in some well-off Caracas neighborhoods banged pots
and pans in protest. Some opposition members boycotted the
    Wearing the presidential sash and naming Chavez's son-in-law
Jorge Arreaza as his vice president, Maduro said he had asked
the election authority to call a vote immediately. 
    Officials are expected to announce the election date on
    Earlier at the funeral, Maduro laid a replica of the sword
of 19th century independence leader Simon Bolivar on top of the
coffin, which was draped in the country's red, yellow and blue
    A singer in a cowboy hat serenaded mourners with folk music
from Chavez's birthplace in Venezuela's "llanos" plains. 
    The late president's body is to be embalmed and shown "for
eternity," similar to the way Communist leaders Lenin, Stalin
and Mao were treated after their deaths. 
    His remains will lie in state for an extra seven days to
accommodate the millions of Venezuelans who still want to pay
their last respects to a man who will be remembered as one of
the world's most colorful and controversial populist leaders.
    Huge crowds of "Chavistas" gathered from before dawn for the
ceremony at a military academy where his body lay in state. Many
were dressed in the red of the ruling Socialist Party, carrying
his picture and waving Venezuelan flags.
    "There are no words for so much pain," said 30-year-old
Kimberly Garcia, sobbing uncontrollably. "Comandante, you are
our sky, our sun, our life. Thanks to you, we have a homeland."
    Some admirers waited for more than 26 hours to view Chavez's
coffin. More than 2 million people have filed past the casket
since Wednesday, many in tears, some saluting, others crossing
    In Caracas were most of Chavez's highest-profile Latin
American friends and allies, such as Ecuadorean President Rafael
Correa and Brazil's former leader, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
    Underscoring Chavez's talent for uniting a mix of unlikely
allies, the center-right presidents of Chile and Colombia
attended, as well as Western idealists like actor Penn and U.S.
civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, who read a prayer.
    As the funeral took place, indigenous priests in Bolivia, a
close leftist ally, made offerings to "mother earth" in Chavez's
    "He was invincible. He left victorious and no one can take
that away. It is fixed in history," Cuban President Raul Castro
said, referring to Chavez's four presidential election wins,
among a string of other ballot victories in his 14-year rule. 
    Chavez was a close ally of the Castro brothers, who have
ruled Cuba since a 1959 revolution. He regarded Fidel Castro as
a mentor and father figure, and his government's oil and
investments have helped keep the island nation's economy afloat.
    Renowned conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who leads Venezuela's
Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles
Philharmonic, led musicians at the funeral playing classical
pieces and the national anthem. 
    Ahmadinejad and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko
were among the more controversial figures present. Ahmadinejad
caused a storm back home for saying Chavez would be resurrected
alongside Jesus Christ and a "hidden" imam who Shi'ite Muslims
believe will rise up to bring world peace.
    The United States did not send senior officials to honor
Chavez, who famously derided George W. Bush as "the devil" and
championed international pariahs like Ahmadinejad, Libya's late
Muammar Gaddafi and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
    But former U.S. Representative William Delahunt and U.S.
Representative Gregory Meeks attended the funeral, amid
speculation of a possible post-Chavez rapprochement between
ideological foes.
    A government source said Chavez slipped into a coma on
Monday before dying the following day of respiratory failure.   
 The cancer had spread to his lungs, the source added. 
    Chavez never said what type of cancer he was suffering from,
and for privacy, he chose to be mainly treated in Cuba. 
    His death paves the way for a new election in the OPEC
nation that boasts the world's largest oil reserves.
    Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said Venezuela would maintain
its oil industry tax and legal framework under Maduro's  
leadership, and said he did not expect Chavez's death to boost
oil prices. 
    At the gates of the academy, activists handed out photos of
Chavez along with printed quotes of his call for supporters to
vote for Maduro should anything happen to him. 
    The constitution stipulates that an election must be called
within 30 days, but politicians say the electoral authorities
may not be ready and there has been talk of a possible delay.
    Maduro, 50, a former bus driver who was Chavez's foreign
minister and then his vice president, looks certain to face
opposition leader Henrique Capriles, 40, the centrist governor
of Miranda state who lost to Chavez in October's election.
    The Supreme Court ruled on Friday that Maduro would not have
to step down to campaign. Capriles called the decision a
"constitutional fraud," throwing down a gauntlet as both sides
geared up for a bruising campaign.
    "Today, on a day of mourning ... the Supreme Court issued a
political sentence, a fraud," Capriles told a news conference.
"We are not prepared to tolerate abuses of power. ... No one
elected Nicolas president." 
    The opposition says the government is riding roughshod over
the constitution, and they argue Maduro should have stepped
aside when he became the Socialist Party candidate, leaving the
reins of government in hands of a caretaker leader.   
    Opposition sources say the 30 or so political groups that 
make up the Democratic Unity coalition have again agreed to back
Capriles, whose 44 percent share of the vote in the last
election in October was the best performance by any candidate
against Chavez. 
    Contrasting with the outpouring of grief at the funeral,
senior opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez cautioned that the
post-Chavez era would not automatically bring a brighter future.
    "The uncertainty goes on, as does the gross meddling by Cuba
and the flagrant violation of the constitution," he said. "Our
people continue to be overwhelmed by insecurity, inflation and
food shortages."
    Two recent opinion polls gave Maduro a strong lead over
Capriles, and Western investors and foreign diplomats are
factoring in a probable win for Maduro and a continuation of
"Chavista" policies, at least in the short term.
    The latest survey, by respected local pollster Datanalisis,
gave Maduro 46.4 percent versus 34.3 percent for Capriles. It
was carried out in mid-February, before Chavez's death.

 (Additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne, Deisy Buitrago,
Marianna Parraga, Pablo Garibian, Simon Gardner and Girish Gupta
in Caracas, Rosa Tania Valdés in Havana and Carlos Quiroga in La
Paz; Editing by Kieran Murray and Todd Eastham)

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