Chavez to be embalmed 'like Lenin' and laid in museum
Leader's body will be preserved in revolution museum 'for eternity', as next acting president prepares to announce elections after funeral
Agence France-Presse in Caracas
Venezuelans flocked to see president Hugo Chavez lying in state, as his political heir revealed he would be embalmed "like Lenin" and displayed in the barracks where he plotted a failed coup.
As people streamed in to pay their respects in a military academy, officials put the transition in motion, announcing that vice-president Nicolas Maduro was to be formally sworn in as acting president late yesterday and would "call for elections".
But the farewell to Chavez was also extended, with Maduro saying the public viewing period would last at least seven more days after yesterday's scheduled state funeral with world leaders.
The former paratrooper, whose socialist revolution delighted the poor and infuriated the wealthy, will be embalmed "like Ho Chi Minh, Lenin and Mao", and be kept in a glass casket to be seen "for eternity", Maduro said last Thursday.
Maduro said the body would be taken to the "Mountain Barracks" in the "January 23" slum that was a bastion of Chavez support, which was being converted into a Museum of the Revolution.
It was there that Chavez spearheaded a coup against president Carlos Andres Perez on February 4, 1992. Chavez's arrest turned him into hero, leading to his 1998 election victory.
But Maduro suggested that Chavez might one day be moved elsewhere - a nod to popular pressure for him to be taken to the national pantheon to lie alongside Latin American independence hero Simon Bolivar.
After hearing the plans to preserve Chavez's body, Manila-based embalmer Frank Malabed, famous for putting the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos into a glass display case, offered his services. "I have not been contacted for it, but I am always expecting a call. I will process anyone, anywhere," Malabed, 62, said yesterday.
Venezuela's National Assembly president, Diosdado Cabello, said Maduro would call for elections. The national electoral council is tasked to set a date for the vote, which under the constitution must be called within 30 days.
On Thursday, Chavez lay in a half-open, glass-covered casket in the academy's hall, wearing olive green military fatigues, a black tie and the red beret that became a symbol of his 14-year rule.
The government said more than two million people have visited since last Wednesday to get a glimpse of their hero, whose petrodollar-fuelled socialism earned him friends and foes at home and abroad.
"He's in there, but my comandante is immortal," said Saul Mantano, a 49-year-old salesman. "I didn't want to see him dead, but it's a reality now."
Chavez's closest ally, Cuban President Raul Castro, said his friend died "undefeated, invincible and victorious" after "entering … the great door of history".
Castro, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa and others went to see the casket. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Belarussian strongman Alexander Lukashenko will also be among 55 world leaders attending the state funeral.