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Final march held in honor of Chavez

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The body of late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was to be moved Friday to a former barracks in a final march to honor of the leftist leader a month before elections are held to pick his successor.

The Caracas military academy, where Chavez's casket has been on view, will serve as the starting point for the procession escorting the remains of the 58-year-old, who last week succumbed to cancer after 14 years in power.

His destination is a former barracks that has been turned into a museum and is located in the "January 23" neighborhood of the Venezuelan capital, a Chavez stronghold in the western part of the capital.

Acting president Nicholas Maduro will preside over the proceedings, to be attended by close Chavez ally Evo Morales, Bolivia's president.

Early in the day, hundreds of supporters -- many in red shirts bearing Chavez's likeness -- had gathered, including along the Paseo de los Proceres, a boulevard honoring the oil-rich country's founders.

"I came because he is our president," 51-year-old Judith Santana told AFP. "The best tribute we can pay tribute is to keep fighting for our revolution and to be happy, not sad."

The march is expected to draw large crowds and resemble last week's seven-hour procession during which Chavez's coffin was transferred to the academy from the military hospital where he died.

It was not immediately clear when Chavez's remains would make it to the former barracks, which served as a base for Chavez's failed 1992 coup attempt.

What will happen to his body in the longer term is also an open question, with indications that plans to embalm him and preserve him on permanent display may have to be abandoned because they were started too late.

It also remains to be seen if Chavez will eventually be laid to rest in the National Pantheon next to military and political leader Simon Bolivar whom Chavez admired and adopted as the symbolic leader of his leftist movement.

On Tuesday, the ruling party postponed debate in parliament on an amendment to the constitution that would make this possible without waiting 25 years.

Until Friday, mourners could come to the military academy's chapel to pay their respects to Chavez, who lay in a casket dressed in an olive green suit and his iconic red beret.

Up until the last minute, his followers streamed in to say their goodbyes, some even reciting poems or verses.

"He did so much for us," Aura Luque, a retired secretary, told AFP.

Venezuelans will vote for a new president on April 14.

In the running are Maduro, whom Chavez picked as his successor in his last public appearance before going to Cuba for cancer surgery in December, and opposition leader Henrique Capriles, beaten by Chavez in October elections.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130315/final-march-held-honor-chavez