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World leaders, celebrities gather to honor Hugo Chavez

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-03-08

World leaders paid tribute to Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez Friday as he lay in state at a lavish funeral held in the capital Caracas. Chavez's successor Vice President Nicolas Maduro is expected to be sworn in as interim president Friday.

World leaders and celebrities gathered at Hugo Chavez’s music-filled state funeral Friday to honor the controversial and charismatic Venezuelan president credited for changing the face of politics in South America.

Chavez died on Tuesday aged 58 after a two-year battle with cancer, devastating millions of mostly poor supporters who loved him for putting the country's vast oil wealth at their service, but giving hope to foes who saw him as a dictator.

The streets outside took on a carnival atmosphere, with military bands launching into marches and an expanse of supporters wearing the red of Chavez's socialist party.

The funeral began with Venezuela's national youth orchestra singing the national anthem, led by famed conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

'Genuine sadness, people are suffering'

Body to be embalmed

The late president's body is to be embalmed and shown at a military museum.

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.

Among the world leaders to attend the Caracas ceremony held at a military academy were close allies such as Cuban President Raul Castro, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, and Brazil's current and former leaders, Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were among the more controversial figures to pay their respects.

"It is a great pain for us because we have lost a friend,'' Ahmadinejad said upon his arrival at the airport the night before the ceremony. "I feel like I have lost myself, but I am sure that he still lives. Chavez will never die. His spirit and soul live on in each of our hearts.''

Television cameras captured Oscar-winning US actor and director Sean Penn in
attendance, while the Rev. Jesse Jackson preached rapprochement between the two countries.

"We pray God today that you will heal the breach between the US and Venezuela,'' Jackson said.

While no senior US officials attended the funeral, US Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat, and former Rep. William Delahunt, a Democrat from Massachusetts, represented the United States, which Chavez often railed against even as he sold the country billions of dollars in oil each year.

A leader 'for all eternity'

With much of the world watching, Vice President Maduro delivered a fiery speech repeating some of the aggressive rhetoric he had used just hours before announcing
Chavez's death Tuesday.

"Here you are commander with your men, standing, all your men and women, loyal as we swore before you, loyal until beyond death,'' Maduro shouted, his voice breaking with emotion. ``We have smashed the curse of betrayal of the country and we will smash the curse of defeat and regression.''

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.

Vice President Maduro, who was to be sworn in Friday as Chavez's handpicked successor pending elections, has said Chavez will be embalmed "for all eternity," like Lenin, Stalin and Mao.

(FRANCE24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-03-08

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