Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro took over as acting president in a ceremony rejected by the opposition after a tearful farewell to Hugo Chavez during a state funeral for the firebrand leftist.

More than 30 heads of state paid tribute to Chavez yesterday as his body lay in state in a flag-covered coffin at a military academy, bringing the curtain down on a 14-year reign that divided his oil-rich nation.

“There you are, undefeated, pure, transparent, unique, true, alive forever,” Maduro said as his voice rose and cracked in a eulogy that both praised his mentor and railed against his opponents.

“Mission accomplished comandante! The struggle goes on,” he exclaimed as the guests, ranging from Cuban leader Raul Castro to Hollywood star Sean Penn, applauded in a raucous ceremony filled with music, cheers and chants for Chavez.

Maduro was later sworn in as acting president at the National Assembly and named Chavez’s son-in-law Jorge Arreaza vice president before urging election authorities to “immediately” convene elections.

Maduro donned the presidential sash, his voice breaking as he declared: “Sorry for these tears but this presidency belongs to our comandante.”

The assembly burst into chants of “Chavez I swear, my vote is for Maduro!”

The main opposition coalition boycotted the inauguration, saying that it was unconstitutional.

The ceremony set the stage for a bitter election campaign that must be called within 30 days, five months after Chavez beat a stronger challenger than he had been used to – Henrique Capriles, who will now likely face his former vice president.

“Nicolas, nobody elected you president. The people didn’t vote for you, kid,” Capriles said.

The opposition has argued that the constitution calls for the National Assembly speaker to take over as interim leader.

Before the political battle began, the state funeral opened with Venezuelan conductor and Los Angeles Philharmonic maestro Gustavo Dudamel leading an orchestral rendition of the national anthem.

Leaders from Africa and the Caribbean attended the funeral, but European nations sent lower-level delegations, while the United States was represented by its charge d’affaires and two politicians from President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party.

(This article was published on March 9, 2013)
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