Hugo Chavez's body to be put on permanent display
Caracas: Venezuela's acting head of state, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, announced on Thursday that Hugo Chavez's body will be preserved and forever displayed inside a glass tomb at a military museum.
Maduro said that Chavez would first lie in state for "at least" seven more days before the museum becomes his permanent home.
Later on Thursday, the National Assembly speaker announced that Maduro would be sworn in on Friday night as acting president following a state funeral and would call elections within 30 days. That enables him, as the designated governing party candidate, to run for president as Chavez desired. Legal scholars say that under the Constitution, the legislature's speaker should instead be sworn in and organise the vote.
More than 30 heads of government, including Cuban President Raul Castro and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are to attend the funeral. US Representative Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat, and former Representative William Delahunt, a Democrat from Massachusetts, will represent the United States, which Chavez often portrayed as a great global evil even as he sent the country billions of dollars in oil each year.
Maduro said the ceremony would begin at 11 am, but did not say where.
"We have decided to prepare the body of our 'Comandante President,' to embalm it so that it remains open for all time for the people. Just like Ho Chi Minh. Just like Lenin. Just like Mao Zedong," Maduro said.
He said the body would be held in a "crystal urn" at the Museum of the Revolution, a mile from Miraflores presidential palace.
The announcement followed two emotional days in which Chavez's supporters compared him to Jesus Christ, and accused his national and international critics of seeking to undermine his "revolution".
A sea of sobbing, heartbroken humanity jammed Venezuela's main military academy on Thursday to see Chavez's body, some waiting 10 hours under the twinkling stars and the searing Caribbean sun to file past his coffin.
On Thursday night, Castro, Presidents Jose Mujica of Uruguay and and Dilma Rousseff of Brazil viewed the open casket along with former Brazilian president Inacio Lula da Silva.
At the military academy, Chavez lay in a glass-covered coffin wearing the olive-green military uniform and red beret of his paratrooper days and looking gaunt and pale, his lips pressed together.