VP Maduro becomes caretaker leader until election

VP Maduro becomes caretaker leader until election

Shattered supporters of Hugo Chavez paraded his coffin through the streets of Caracas on Wednesday in a flood of emotion allies hope will help his deputy win an election due in the coming weeks and keep his self-styled revolution alive.

 Tens of thousands of “Chavistas” marched behind the remains of the flamboyant and outspoken president, draped in Venezuela’s blue, red and yellow national flag.

Many wept as a hearse flanked by soldiers in red berets carried his coffin through downtown Caracas and loudspeakers played Chavez's voice singing songs.    

His body will be taken to a military academy on Wednesday to lie in state for three days.

The future of Chavez’s leftist policies, which won him the adoration of poor Venezuelans but infuriated opponents who denounced him as a dictator, now rests on the shoulders of Vice President Nicolas Maduro, the man he tapped to succeed him. “In the immense pain of this historic tragedy that has affected our fatherland, we call on all the compatriots to be vigilant for peace, love, respect and tranquility,” Maduro said.

“We ask our people to channel this pain into peace.” Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver and union leader, will probably face Henrique Capriles, governor of Miranda state, in the next election in the OPEC nation with the world's largest oil reserves.

The stakes are huge for the region, given the crucial economic aid and cheap fuel the Chavez government supplied to allies across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Authorities said the vote would be called within 30 days, as stipulated by the constitution, but did not specify the date. One recent opinion poll gave Maduro a strong lead over Capriles, in part because he has received Chavez's blessing as his heir apparent, and he is likely to benefit from the surge of emotion following the president's death. The tall, mustachioed Maduro has long been a close ally of Chavez.

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