Maduro officially opens campaign in Chavez family home

Acting President Nicolas Maduro officially opened his campaign to succeed Hugo Chavez on Tuesday in Venezuela, vowing to carry on his mentor's socialist legacy in the late leader's hometown ahead of the April 14 election.

Maduro, a 50-year-old former foreign minister and vice president, was accompanied by hundreds of supporters, government officials and Chavez relatives as he visited the fallen president's childhood home, now a local ruling PSUV socialist party headquarters.

"We will fulfill the will and legacy of president Chavez," the handpicked successor said, describing the house as the "cradle of the Bolivarian revolution."

"We feel comandante Chavez within us, like a father. We come to make a commitment with this land that saw his birth, pledge to never fail him and build socialism to its last consequences," he said.

The short presidential campaign formally kicked off on Tuesday, almost one month after Chavez lost his battle with cancer on March 5.

But Maduro and opposition rival Henrique Capriles already started trading barbs and wooing voters weeks ago.

It is the second time in six months that Venezuelans will go to the polls.

In power for 14 years, Chavez was re-elected to a six-year term in October when he defeated Capriles by 11 points, riding on his huge popularity among supporters of his oil-funded social programs while disappointing critics who accuse him of strong-arm tactics.

But the late president flew to Cuba for a new round of cancer surgery in December and disappeared from public view, his illness preventing him from attending his January 10 inauguration. His successor will serve until January 2019.

Speaking outside Chavez's old family home, Maduro called the late leader a "prophet," a "giant of the fatherland" and the "supreme commander" in another eulogy of the firebrand leftist.

He added: "I want to ratify a commitment that we made to him. I will be the president of this country because that was his order and because our people ratified it."

While Maduro, who is heavily favored to win the election, was in Chavez's homeland, Capriles was due to launch his campaign in the eastern state of Monagas.

"Today we continue our crusade from Monagas," the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state wrote on Twitter, urging his supporters to have "faith, hope and courage."