Global leaders, celebrities honor Chavez at funeral

Fri Mar 8, 2013 5:00pm EST
 
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By Daniel Wallis and Mario Naranjo

CARACAS (Reuters) - From Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to U.S. Oscar-winner Sean Penn, an eclectic mix of mourners bid farewell on Friday to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez at the funeral for the charismatic but divisive leader who changed the face of South American politics.

Chavez died this week at age 58 after a two-year battle with cancer, devastating millions of mostly poor supporters who hailed him for plowing the country's vast oil wealth into social projects, but giving hope to foes who decried him as a dictator.

A frequent visitor to Caracas and fellow "anti-imperialist," Ahmadinejad received a standing ovation as he took his place in a guard of honor by Chavez's coffin, then broke protocol to touch the casket and clench his fist in a revolutionary salute.

"Commander, here you are undefeated, pure, living for all time," Chavez's preferred successor, acting President Nicolas Maduro, said over the casket, his voice cracking with emotion.

"Your soul and spirit are so powerful that your body could not hold them, and now they are traveling this universe, growing with blessings and love."

The mourners chanted: "Chavez lives! The fight continues!"

Maduro, who was due to be sworn in as caretaker president on Friday, laid a replica of the sword of 19th century independence leader Simon Bolivar on top of the coffin, which was draped in the country's red, yellow and blue flag.

A singer in a cowboy hat serenaded the mourners with folk music from Chavez's birthplace in Venezuela's "llanos" plains.   Continued...

 
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pays tribute to late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, during the funeral service at the Military Academy in Caracas March 8, 2013, in this picture provided by the Miraflores Palace. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout