Venezuela opposition leader Capriles mulls election run

Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles on Sunday weighed a run against Hugo Chavez's handpicked successor in an April 14 election, six months after the late firebrand leftist defeated him.

Capriles, the 40-year-old Miranda state governor, said he would announce later Sunday whether he will take on acting President Nicolas Maduro and the 14-year socialist revolution that has divided the oil-rich nation.

The election promises to be bitter, with the ruling party vowing to keep Chavez's legacy alive and the opposition accusing the government of violating the constitution by making Maduro acting president.

Capriles, who has said he would follow Brazilian-style center-left policies, thanked the opposition for offering him the nomination, writing on Twitter that he would "speak to the country about my decision" late Sunday.

Candidates have until Monday afternoon to register for the snap election.

As Capriles mulled his next move, the late president loomed large over the election, with thousands of Chavez loyalists continuing to file past his open casket at a Caracas military academy.

A band playing the "llanera" music from his home region played songs and shouted "Viva comandante Chavez! The immortal comandate!"

A recent survey by pollsters Hinterlaces gave Maduro a 14-point advantage over Capriles, though the opposition leader has questioned the firm's reliability in the past.

The Democratic Union Roundtable (MUD), a large coalition of wide-ranging parties, said it had unanimously picked him as its candidate. Last year, Capriles was nominated in an unprecedented election within the historically fractured opposition.

"We have all recognized Henrique Capriles Radonski as the person to embody this option of change," said MUD executive secretary Ramon Guillermo Aveledo.

The opposition largely boycotted Maduro's swearing-in late Friday, hours after Chavez was given a lavish state funeral with more than 30 foreign leaders, mostly from Latin America, including his closest ally, Cuban President Raul Castro.

Capriles denounced the inauguration as a "constitutional fraud" and an abuse of power, telling Maduro: "The people didn't vote for you, kid." Maduro countered that the opposition was misinterpreting the constitution.

Maduro, the 50-year-old former vice president, and Capriles began trading barbs well before Chavez lost his battle to cancer last Tuesday at the age of 58.

Maduro has called Capriles the "decadent prince of the parasitic bourgeoisie," while the governor said the former bus driver and union activist was "lazy" and a "slacker" who "has never worked."

Chavez defeated Capriles by 11 points in the October presidential election, but Capriles gave the opposition its best result ever against the president, garnering 44 percent of the votes.

The youthful, energetic governor drew massive crowds during the last campaign, bringing hundreds of thousands of people to the streets of Caracas for a rally in the final stretch of the race.

But Chavez was propelled to victory again thanks to his popularity among the nation's once-neglected poor, who worshipped him for the oil-funded social program that brought them health care, housing and education. His expropriations and nationalizations of key industries, however, angered the wealthy.

The opposition accused Chavez of using his position to dominate the airwaves and use state funds to finance his campaign.

Chavez will cast a huge shadow over this new election, which falls near a key anniversary in his political history.

The late leader was briefly ousted on April 11, 2002, in a coup that was organized by the chamber of commerce and the trade union federation with the help of some military officials. But he was restored to power by loyal soldiers on April 13 amid popular protests.

The government plans to embalm and preserve Chavez "like Lenin" to rest in a glass casket "for eternity," a move decried by the opposition, which claimed that it went against the president's wishes.

Chavez, who forged a near-mystical bond with the country's poor, has been lying in state since Wednesday and throngs have filed past his half-open casket nonstop.

He chose Maduro to succeed him before leaving for Cuba in December for a new round of cancer surgery, urging Venezuelans to vote for him if he died.

"Chavez continues to govern through Maduro," said former vice president Jose Vicente Rangel, an influential figure in Chavismo.