World Leaders Gather for Chavez's Funeral

World Leaders Gather for Chavez's Funeral
Latin American leaders and US foes joined throngs of mourners at a state funeral for Venezuela's Hugo Chavez today, as the nation eyes life without him with the formal swearing-in of his political heir.

Venezuela has given a lavish farewell to the leftist firebrand, with hundreds of thousands of people filing past his open casket nonstop since Wednesday to say goodbye to the man who was worshipped by the oil-rich nation's poor.

Foreign Minister Elias Jaua and a crowd of flag-waving Chavez supporters greeted leaders who began to arrive at the military academy for the funeral, set to start at 11:00 am (2100 IST).

In the evening Nicolas Maduro, who was Chavez's vice president, will be named acting president and elections are expected to be called within 30 days.

Most Latin American leaders are attending the funeral, as well as bugbears of the West long courted by the anti-US Chavez, including Cuba's Raul Castro, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Belarussian strongman Alexander Lukashenko.

Lukashenko, once dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by the United States, smiled and pumped his first at a crowd of Chavez supporters waving Venezuelan flags behind a fence in front of the academy's entrance.

Chavez's mother, Elena Frias, raised her arms toward the cheering crowd, crying and wiping her tears with a white handkerchief.

Ahmadinejad again expressed his condolences after he landed early today, saying "Chavez will never die, his soul and spirit are alive in the hearts of fighters."

Leaders from Africa and the Caribbean were attending the funeral but European nations sent lower-level delegations while the United States will be represented by its charge d'affaires and two Democratic Party politicians.
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