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Maduro gives fiery speech at Chávez funeral

CARACAS -- With folk songs, a soaring choir and the brandishing of a symbolic sword, Venezuela bade goodbye to President Hugo Chávez in an emotional funeral yesterday as his hand-picked successor pledged to fiercely defend his socialist revolution.

The ceremony drew world leaders, athletes and left-wing celebrities, while multitudes of Chávez supporters watched on giant screens outside. The day ended with the swearing-in of Vice President Nicolas Maduro as interim president, despite criticism from opposition leaders that the move is unconstitutional.

The funeral launched with Venezuela's national youth orchestra singing the national anthem, led by famed conductor Gustavo Dudamel. A government-allied congressman later belted out cowboy songs from Chávez's native Barinas state.

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

His words, and even the tone of his voice, echoed the speeches that Chávez 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," Maduro shouted. He also reached out to the United States, which he had accused of giving Chávez cancer just three days before.

"We love all the people of our America, but we want relations of respect, of cooperation, of true peace," 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 Chávez's flag-draped coffin, and the guest list in large part reflected Chávez's foreign policy of strident criticism of the United States 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.

The United States was represented by Rep. Gregory Meeks, a Queens Democrat, and former Rep. William Delahunt, a Democrat from Massachusetts.


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