Maduro vows to complete Chavez's Venezuelan revolution
Tearful acting president vows to carry on work of Chavez; rival says Venezuela needs change
Agence France-Presse in Caracas
Venezuela's acting president, Nicolas Maduro, tearfully vowed to complete Hugo Chavez's socialist revolution, while rival Henrique Capriles promised change at emotional rallies to wrap up their bitter campaign.
Maduro was joined on stage by the late leader's friend, Argentine football icon Diego Maradona, who signed and kicked balls to tens of thousands of people clad in red in Caracas ahead of tomorrow's election.
Parakeets were released and Maduro put one on each shoulder in a nod to his assertion last week that Chavez's spirit had visited him in the form of a "little bird" - a story the opposition seized on to mock the late leader's chosen successor.
The final rallies closed a brief campaign that was marked by name-calling, allegations of assassination plots and the transformation of Chavez into a semi-religious figure in the politically polarised nation.
Before Maduro's speech, the crowd sang along as a large screen showed a video of Chavez singing the national anthem under the rain during his last campaign rally in October.
Surrounded by his cabinet, Maduro, 50, pledged to fulfil his mentor's oil-funded socialist revolution, which brought popular education, health and food programs to the poor.
"We, his sons and daughters, will guarantee that this is the case. We swear that the revolution will continue," he said, calling Chavez "Christ the redeemer of the poor," one month after he lost his battle with cancer.
"For the love of the poor, I aspire one day to join Hugo Chavez again, my father the redeemer," Maduro said, fighting back tears. "Long live Chavez! Long live the Bolivarian revolution!"
Maduro, a former bus driver and union activist who rose to foreign minister and vice-president under Chavez, has enjoyed leads of 10 to 20 percentage points in opinion polls.
A survey by pollsters Datanalisis gave him a 9.7-point lead. The poll was conducted between April 1 and 5.
Wearing a shirt and matching baseball cap in Venezuela's yellow, blue and red colours, Capriles voiced confidence he would win, six months after losing to Chavez by 11 points in the last election.
"Make no mistake, next Sunday is time to open a new cycle and change this situation," he told a huge rally in the western city of Barquisimeto.
The 40-year-old Miranda state governor, who has accused Maduro of unfairly using state funds and television to dominate the campaign, said the government "abuses, intimidates and threatens".
"This is the time to change Venezuela," said 50-year-old mechanic Jorge Fonseca, as Capriles supporters held signs reading "God's timing is perfect" and "This is the moment".