Venezuela Gives Chavez a Lavish Farewell

Venezuela Gives Chavez a Lavish Farewell
Venezuela gave Hugo Chavez a lavish farewell today at a state funeral that brought some of the world's most notorious strongmen to tears, with music, prayers and a fiery speech by his successor.

More than 30 heads of state paid tribute to the leftist firebrand president as his body lay in state in a flag-covered coffin at a military academy, bringing the curtain down on a 14-year reign that divided his nation.

"There you are, undefeated, pure, transparent, unique, true, alive forever," his political heir, Nicolas Maduro, said in a 30-minute tribute that both praised his mentor and railed against the "insults" of his opponents.

"Mission accomplished comandante! The struggle goes on," said Maduro, the vice president due to be sworn in as acting president later today.

But the opposition will boycott the inauguration, setting the stage for a bitter election campaign, five months after Chavez defeated a stronger challenger than usual, Henrique Capriles, who will likely face Maduro this time.

Lawmaker Angel Medina of the Democratic Union Roundtable, an umbrella grouping of opposition parties, branded the hasty swearing-in "another electoral act and a violation of the Venezuelan constitutional order."

Venezuela is giving Chavez a long farewell, with hundreds of thousands of people filing past his open casket nonstop since Wednesday. Some fainted from the heat, many spent the night outside to see the man who became a hero of the poor with oil-funded social programmes.

Venezuelan conductor and Los Angeles Philharmonic maestro Gustavo Dudamel led an orchestra's rendition of the national anthem to open the state funeral.

Maduro placed a replica of the golden sword of South American independence hero Simon Bolivar on his mentor's wooden casket and then handed it to his family at the end of the funeral.

Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus sat next to each other, wiping away tears as a band played one of Chavez's favorite sentimental songs, typical from his native land.

Several Latin American leaders, including Cuban President Raul Castro, were invited to stand around the coffin, which was closed and covered in the yellow, blue and red colours of Venezuela, in an honour guard.
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