Cuba gives Chavez hero's send-off

Cuba's leaders gave Hugo Chavez a send-off fit for one of their own Thursday, with huge crowds turning out to pay homage to the late Venezuelan leader in the Revolution Plaza in Havana and Santiago.

Cuban President Raul Castro, dressed in military uniform, placed a wreath before an image of Chavez, who died Tuesday after a long struggle with cancer, in the ceremony in Santiago, 900 kilometers (540 miles) southeast of Havana.

Cuba's new number two, Miguel Diaz-Canel, led another mass turnout at Havana's vast Revolution Plaza, the iconic public square from which revolutionary leader Fidel Castro used to address the Cuban people.

Other events memorializing Chavez were to take place in plazas across Cuba Thursday, an honor typically reserved for only historic leaders of the Cuban revolution.

In this case, tradition was set aside to remember a crucial oil-rich ally whose largesse has kept the communist-ruled island economically afloat during his 14-year-rule.

During his illness, Chavez was treated almost exclusively in Cuba where his cancer was first detected in June 2011. He underwent four rounds of surgery, chemo and radiation therapy before returning home for the last time February 18.

After his death in Caracas, the Cuban government declared that "Chavez is also Cuban" and was hailed as a "true son" of Fidel Castro.

Cuban flags were lowered to half mast over the colonial fortresses of Morro and La Cabana overlooking Havana's harbor, and the government ordered three days of mourning.

On Friday, when Chavez is buried in Venezuela, his passing will be marked here with a 21-gun salute.