World leaders attend Chávez funeral
Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (left), Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff and Rosa Virginia, daughter of Venezuela's late president Hugo Chavez, view his coffin during a wake in Caracas yesterday. Photograph: Reuters
From Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Cuba's Raul Castro, about 30 heads of state joined today's funeral of Hugo Chávez in a last goodbye to the charismatic but divisive Venezuelan leader who changed the face of politics in South America.
Mr Chávez died on Tuesday at age 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 also giving hope to foes who saw him as a dictator.
The country's supreme court said today vice president Nicolas Maduro became acting president the moment Chávez died, and can run for president.
The decision comes just hours before Mr Maduro is to be sworn in as acting president before the national assembly and it was issued during the state funeral for Chávez.
National assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello had earlier announced the planned swearing-in, which the opposition says it is boycotting. In a tweet, opposition leader Henrique Capriles called today’s court ruling “a constitutional fraud”.
The constitution specifies that the national assembly speaker should have become interim president as Chávez was never able to assume office before he died. Chávez, who was re-elected on October 7th but never sworn in, anointed Mr Maduro his successor.
Huge crowds of "Chávistas" arrived earlier for the ceremony at a military academy where his body has been lying in state. Many were dressed in the red of the ruling socialist party, carrying his picture and waving Venezuelan flags.
"Chávez did not die, he multiplied!" they chanted. "Chávez lives! The revolution goes on!" The late president's body is to be embalmed and shown "for eternity" at a military museum - similar to how 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 colourful and controversial populist leaders.
"All these measures are being taken so that the people can be with their leader forever," said Mr Maduro.
More than two million people have so far filed past Mr Chávez's coffin behind a red rope at the grandiose military academy, many sobbing, some saluting or crossing themselves.
Among the leaders gathering in Caracas were close allies such as Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa, Brazil's current and former leaders, Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and Cuban president Raul Castro.
"Most importantly, he left undefeated," Mr Castro said, referring to Mr Chávez's four presidential election wins and a string of other ballot victories in his 14-year rule.
"He was invincible. He left victorious and no one can take that away. It is fixed in history."
Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko and Mr Ahmadinejad were among the more controversial figures scheduled to attend the ceremony.