Venezuelan vice-president says Chavez lives
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP):President Hugo Chavez was lauded as a modern-day reincarnation of Latin American liberator Simon Bolívar and a disciple of Cuba's Fidel Castro at a fiery, foot-stamping state funeral yesterday that at times smacked of a political rally as presidents, princes and left-wing glitterati looked on.
Chavez's hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, emotionally eulogised the fallen leader at the military academy where the funeral was held, his voice booming over Chavez's flag-draped coffin as he pledged eternal loyalty.
"Here we are, Comandante, your men, on their feet," Maduro shouted, government officials rising behind him. "All your men and women ... loyal until beyond death.
"Chavez lives!" he declared. "Mission accomplished!"
But all was not peace and harmony in a country deeply divided by Chavez's 14 years in power. The opposition coalition announced it would boycott Maduro's swearing-in later yesterday at the same military academy, calling it unconstitutional. The dispute foreshadows a bitter presidential campaign to come, with elections mandated within 30 days of Chávez's death.
The opposition also rejected the venue, complaining that the military command had already virtually endorsed Maduro as Chavez's rightful heir. The country's Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Maduro became acting president when Chávez died and could thus run in the election without having to step down. The constitution bars sitting vice-presidents from running for the top job. Opposition Leader Henrique Capriles, who is expected to challenge Maduro, called the decision a "fraud".
The funeral began with Venezuela's national youth orchestra singing the national anthem, led by famed conductor Gustavo Dudamel. A government-allied congressman later belted out cowboy songs from Chávez's native Barinas state.
The streets outside the military academy took on a carnival atmosphere, with military bands launching into marches and an expanse of supporters wearing the red of Chávez's socialist party.
Maduro said that no Venezuelan leader, even Bolívar who died in exile, faced and overcame such treachery and opposition as Chávez, who succumbed to cancer on Tuesday at the age of 58
"Here you are, unconquered, pure, transparent, unique, true and always alive," Maduro shouted as many in attendance cried. "Comandante, they couldn't defeat you and they will never, ever defeat us."
Maduro announced on Thursday that the government would embalm Chávez's body and put it on permanent display, a decision that touched off strong passions on both sides of this deeply divided country.
Venezuelans watched the funeral from cafés, with many saying they were flattered to be the subject of the world's attention.