Global leaders, celebrities honour Chavez
CARACAS (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 honour 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 swearing-in.
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 Saturday.
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 flag.
A singer in a cowboy hat serenaded mourners with folk music from Chavez’s birthplace in Venezuela’s “llanos” plains.