Chavez's interim successor sworn in despite protests

Chavez's interim successor sworn in despite protests

Nicolas Maduro has been sworn in as Venezuela’s acting president, despite the objections of the opposition who said the move violated the country’s constitution.

The former president Hugo Chavez designated Mr Maduro as his successor before he died on Tuesday of cancer. Mr Maduro had been Mr Chavez’s vice president.

The country’s 1999 constitution says the National Assembly speaker becomes interim president in the event of a president-elect’s death or inability to be sworn in.

The constitution also says a presidential election should be called within 30 days.

Mr Maduro has been picked as the presidential candidate of Mr Chavez’s socialist party.

Opposition leader Angel Medina had said they would boycott the swearing-in ceremony.

Stray fireworks exploded above the capital of Caracas as soon as Mr Maduro was sworn in as president.

Both Mr Maduro and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello pledged to follow Mr Chavez’s example and push his socialist-inspired agenda.

“I swear by the most absolute loyalty to comrade Hugo Chavez that we will fulfil and see that it’s fulfilled the constitution … with the iron fist of a people ready to be free,” Mr Maduro said.

After Mr Cabello swore in Mr Maduro, the National Assembly president said: “Venezuela will follow the route to socialism.”

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said Mr Maduro used Mr Chavez’s funeral earlier in the day to campaign for the presidency, in violation of the constitution.

Mr Capriles is widely expected to run against Mr Maduro in the coming vote.

The funeral ceremony drew world leaders, athletes and left-wing celebrities, while multitudes of Chavez supporters watched on giant screens outside.

It began with Venezuela’s national youth orchestra singing the national anthem, led by famed conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

With much of the world watching, Mr Maduro delivered a fiery speech repeating some of the aggressive rhetoric he had used just hours before announcing Mr Chavez’s death.

His words, and even the tone of his voice, echoed the speeches that Mr Chavez so often delivered, even if the crowds of red-shirted supporters this time were kept far away from the ceremonies held in a military academy.

“We have smashed the curse of betrayal of the country and we will smash the curse of defeat and regression,” Mr Maduro shouted, his voice breaking, and in tears.

He also reached out to the US, which he had accused of giving Mr Chavez cancer just three days before.

“We love all the people of our America, but we want relations of respect, of cooperation, of true peace,” Mr Maduro said.

“We want… a world without empires, without hegemonic nations, a world of peace that respects international law.”

More than 30 political leaders including Cuba’s Raul Castro and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stood at attention before the flag-draped coffin.

The guest list in large part reflected Mr Chavez’s foreign policy of strident criticism of the US and friendships with nations at odds with Washington.

Television cameras captured Hollywood star Sean Penn in attendance at the funeral, while the Rev Jesse Jackson preached rapprochement between his country and Venezuela.

“We pray to God today that you will heal the breach between the US and Venezuela,” he said.

At the end of the funeral, Mr Maduro handed a replica of Simon Bolivar’s sword to the family of Mr Chavez, who had modelled himself on the independence hero and even added “The Bolivarian Republic” to the nation’s name.

Yesterday, the acting leader announced the government would embalm Mr Chavez’s body and put it on permanent display.

The decision sparked off strong passions on both sides of the deeply divided country, which Mr Chavez ruled for 14 years before succumbing to cancer at the age of 58.

Most of the normally traffic-choked streets of Caracas were empty yesterday, with schools and many businesses shuttered. The government also prohibited alcohol sales.

Many Venezuelans, particularly Chavez supporters, said they were caught up in the pomp and circumstance of the past few days, and flattered to be the subject of world’s attention.

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