Venezuela renders final honors to Chavez

Caracas, Mar 8 (EFE).- The state funeral of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez began shortly before midday Friday with some 30 heads of state and government in attendance.

Proceedings got under way at the Military Academy in Caracas with the introduction of the visiting heads of state and of Spain's Crown Prince Felipe.

The Simon Bolivar Symphonic Orchestra and Youth Choir performed Venezuela's national anthem under the baton of renowned conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

After a call of "Viva Chavez," Vice President Nicolas Maduro was handed the sword of South American liberator Simon Bolivar, which had carried at the head of the procession that carried Chavez's body to the Military Academy.

Mourners applauded as Maduro placed the sword on Chavez's flag-draped coffin and joined hands with the members of the Cabinet.

Sitting in the front row were the late president's children and his mother, Elena Chavez, whose arrival at the academy drew an ovation from the thousands lined up outside waiting to file past the coffin.

The first honor guard comprised the presidents of Cuba, Raul Castro; Chile, Sebastian PiƱera; Bolivia, Evo Morales; Ecuador, Rafael Correa; and Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla, among others.

The second contingent included Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos, Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic, and Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes.

Crown Prince Felipe represented "the friendly nations."

Roughly 2 million people have already filed past Chavez's coffin and Maduro said Thursday that the president would lie in state for at least another seven days to give all Venezuelans a chance to pay their respects.

The vice president also announced Thursday that Chavez's body will be preserved and kept on display in a glass tomb in the manner of Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin.

Chavez, 58, died Tuesday of a massive heart attack after battling cancer for 21 months. First elected in 1998, he won another six-year term last October.

Maduro is to be sworn in as acting president in a ceremony set for Friday evening.

Venezuela's constitution mandates a new presidential election within 30 days of the death of the incumbent head of state.