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Fiery funeral for Venezuela's Chavez

Saturday - 3/9/2013, 5:44am  ET

Nicolas Maduro raises his fist as he dons the presidential sash after he was sworn in as Venezuela's president at the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, March 8, 2013. Maduro was sworn in Friday as Venezuela's acting president, against the objections of the political opposition who said the move violated the country's constitution. Late President Hugo Chavez designated Vice President Maduro as his successor before he died Tuesday of cancer. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

JORGE RUEDA
Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Hugo Chavez was lauded as a modern-day reincarnation of Latin American liberator Simon Bolivar at a fiery, foot-stomping state funeral Friday, hours before his handpicked successor was sworn in as acting president over the fierce objections of the opposition.

Nicolas Maduro took the oath of office in the National Assembly before ruling party legislators, dignitaries and a boisterous crowd of sympathizers that chanted "Chavez lives! Maduro carries on!" Holding up a tiny blue-bound booklet of Venezuela's 1999 constitution in his right hand, Maduro pledged his "most absolute loyalty" to Chavez.

He broke into tears as he spoke of his mentor during a strident acceptance speech that included numerous attacks on the United States, capitalist elites and the international media.

Maduro also claimed the allegiance of Venezuela's army, calling it "the armed forces of Chavez" as he pumped his fist in the air, a gesture that was reciprocated by the defense minister watching from the gallery. Critics have voiced increasing concern about the overt support the military has shown to the ruling party since Chavez's death despite a ban on the army's participation in politics.

The opposition largely boycotted the swearing-in, calling it unconstitutional. Henrique Capriles, Maduro's likely opponent in presidential election that must be called within 30 days, spoke condescendingly of the former bus driver and union leader, referring to him as "boy" and accusing him of "shamelessly" lying to the country.

At Chavez's state funeral earlier in the day, Maduro stood before an assemblage of presidents, princes and left-wing glitterati, speaking in a booming voice over the flag-draped casket in a ceremony that at times smacked of a political rally.

"Here we are, Comandante, your men, on their feet," Maduro shouted, government officials rising behind him. "All your men and women ... loyal until beyond death."

The funeral began 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 Chavez's native Barinas state.

The streets outside the military academy took on a carnival atmosphere, with military bands launching into marches and an expanse of supporters wearing the red of Chavez's socialist party. Street vendors sold paper replicas of the presidential sash, which many people in the line slipped over their shoulders.

Throngs watched the ceremony on huge monitors under the blazing sun. A line of people waiting to see Chavez's body stretched 1
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