Leaders from Cuba to Iran attend
Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Cuba's Raul Castro joined about 30 other heads of state at yesterday's funeral for Hugo Chavez, in an emotional farewell to the charismatic but divisive Venezuelan leader who changed the face of politics in South America.
Chavez died this week aged 58 after a two-year battle with cancer.
A frequent visitor to Caracas and fellow "anti-imperialist", Ahmadinejad received a standing ovation as he took his place in a guard of honour by Chavez's casket, then broke protocol to touch the casket and clench his fist in a revolutionary salute.
"It's as if the world has come together around Hugo Chavez," said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua.
Chavez's preferred successor and acting president, Nicolas Maduro, laid a replica of the sword of 19th century Independence leader Simon Bolivar on top of the casket, which was draped in the country's red, yellow and blue flag. And a singer in a cowboy hat serenaded mourners with music from Chavez's birthplace in Venezuela's "llanos" plains.
Huge crowds of "Chavistas" gathered from before dawn for the ceremony at a military academy where his body was lying in state.
"I asked God to grant him life, not me," said Leonida Munoz, 73, wearing a T-shirt bearing the image of Chavez's eyes. "He deserves to live more than I do."
In Caracas were most of Chavez's highest-profile Latin American friends, such as Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and Brazil's former leader, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
"Most importantly, he left undefeated," Castro said, referring to Chavez's four presidential election wins, among a string of other ballot victories in his 14-year rule.
"He was invincible. He left victorious and no one can take that away. It is fixed in history."
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Ahmadinejad were among the more controversial figures.
At the gates of the academy, activists handed out photos of Chavez along with printed quotes of his call for supporters to vote for Maduro should anything happen to him.
Contrasting with the outpouring of grief at the funeral, senior opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez cautioned the post-Chavez era would not automatically bring a brighter future.