Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hugo Chavez death: Thousands march with coffin



A procession accompanying Mr Chavez's coffin took more than six hours to reach the Military Academy where he will lie in state until Friday.

The government has announced seven days of mourning for the president.

Mr Chavez, a controversial figure and staunch critic of the US, was seriously ill with cancer for more than a year.

He died aged 58 on Tuesday after 14 years as president.

A self-proclaimed revolutionary, he inspired a left-wing revival across Latin America.
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At the scene
image of Irene Caselli Irene Caselli BBC News, Caracas

Dramatic images are being broadcast on Venezuelan TV stations, as the hearse of Hugo Chavez crosses the city surrounded by a sea of red flags. People are crying and sobbing, screaming the name of the late president, many wearing red T-shirts and carrying his images.

"We carry you in our heart," said one woman sobbing on live television. "Long live Hugo Chavez," she screamed.

Foreign presidents, such as Bolivia's Evo Morales, are taking part in the procession, together with Mr Chavez's family members, Vice President Nicolas Maduro and all top government officials.

This is just the beginning of public events to mourn Mr Chavez. The funeral will be held on Friday, and even greater crowds are expected.

Latin American leaders are in Caracas to pay their respects - among them President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina, Jose Mujica of Uruguay and Evo Morales of Bolivia.

Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay, Chile, Cuba and the Caribbean island of Dominica have declared periods of official mourning.

Another Chavez ally, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also announced a day of mourning, describing him as a "martyr".

To the pantheon'

On Wednesday morning, a priest prayed for eternal rest for Mr Chavez in a brief ceremony at the hospital where he died on Tuesday.

Officials then put the flag-draped coffin on top of a waiting hearse surrounded by crowds.

The procession began its slow 8km (five-mile) journey through the streets of Caracas, led by officials including Vice-President Nicolas Maduro and accompanied by cheering red-clad supporters.

Some shouted "Chavez to the pantheon", referring to the mausoleum he built for revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar.

"I'm here to say my final goodbye to my president. There will never be another Chavez. He is the greatest man that this fatherland gave us," said Jose Gregorio Conde, 34, an education worker, quoted by AFP news agency.

Seven hours later, the streets were still filled with people, some of them crying or clutching pictures of the dead leader, as the coffin arrived at the Military Academy.

Mr Chavez's illness prevented him from taking the oath of office after he was re-elected for a fourth term in October.

Announcing the president's death on Tuesday, Vice-President Nicolas Maduro called on the nation to close ranks after its leader's demise.

"Let there be no weakness, no violence. Let there be no hate. In our hearts there should only be one sentiment: Love."

A statement from the military said it would remain loyal to the vice-president and to parliament, it added, urging people to remain calm.

Vice-President Maduro will assume the presidency until an election is called within 30 days.

- BBC