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By Mario Naranjo
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's government said on Wednesday it may not be possible to embalm the remains of late leader Hugo Chavez as planned because the process should have been started earlier.
Chavez died last week aged 58 after a two-year battle with cancer. His body has been on display in a glass-topped coffin at a grandiose military academy in the capital Caracas, where millions of people have filed past to pay homage.
The government had said it planned to embalm Chavez's remains "for eternity" in much the same way as was done with the remains of Soviet leaders Lenin and Stalin and communist Chinese leader Mao Zedong after they died.
"Russian and German scientists have arrived to embalm Chavez and they tell us it's very difficult because the process should have started earlier ... Maybe we can't do it," acting President Nicolas Maduro said in televised comments on Wednesday.
"We are in the middle of the process. It's complicated, it's my duty to inform you."
Government sources said they expected a formal announcement to be made later this week that, despite the efforts of the team involved, it had not been possible to embalm Chavez.
World leaders and celebrities paid a last tribute to the flamboyant late Venezuelan leader at his funeral last week. On Friday, his body is due to be transferred from the military academy to a museum on a hilltop overlooking the Miraflores presidential palace.
Chavez's death has brought an outpouring of emotion in Venezuela, especially among his millions of mostly poor supporters, many of whom viewed him almost as a religious figure even before his death.
Detractors say the adoration of Chavez is over-the-top and ignores his confrontational style and bullying of opponents. They accuse the government of manipulating emotions around his death to help Maduro win an election scheduled for April 14.
(Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Paul Simao)