Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Venezuela bids goodbye to Chavez

Officials attend the funeral ceremony for Venezuela's late president Hugo Chavez at the military academy in Caracas (AP/Miraflores Press Office)

Venezuela has bid goodbye to president Hugo Chavez in an emotional funeral as his hand-picked successor pledged to fiercely defend his socialist revolution.

The ceremony drew world leaders, athletes and left-wing celebrities, while multitudes of Chavez supporters watched on giant screens outside.

The day was set to end with the swearing-in of vice president Nicolas Maduro as interim president, despite criticism from opposition leaders that the move is unconstitutional.

The funeral launched 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 Mr Chavez's native Barinas state.

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

"We have smashed the curse of betrayal of the country and we will smash the curse of defeat and regression," Mr Maduro shouted, his voice breaking, and in tears.

Mr Maduro also reached out to the United States, which he had accused of giving Mr Chavez cancer just three days before.

"We love all the people of our America, but we want relations of respect, of co-operation, of true peace," Mr Maduro said. "We want... a world without empires, without hegemonic nations, a world of peace that respects international law."

On Thursday, the acting leader announced the government would embalm Mr Chavez's body and put it on permanent display, a decision that touched off strong passions on both sides of this deeply divided country, which Mr Chavez ruled for 14 years before succumbing to cancer at the age of 58.

Following the funeral, National Assembly Speaker Diosdado Cabello was to swear in Mr Maduro as interim president at the same military academy complex where Mr Chavez's body is lying in state.

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