A state funeral was held on Friday for Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer complications at the age of 58.
Leaders from around the world including Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Raul Castro of Cuba and Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico took turns to keep brief watches over the casket at the Military Academy.
The Simon Bolivar Symphonic Orchestra, led by Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel, opened the ceremony with the national anthem.
Mr. Chavez’s Vice President and hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, presided over the funeral
However, World leaders were in Caracas for Hugo Chavez’s state funeral, as the Venezuelan leader’s hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, was to be sworn in as interim president.
Present at the memorial service were Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who often referred to Mr. Chavez as his brother, and Cuban President Raul Castro.
Thousands of Chavez supporters rallied outside the Military Academy where his body lies in state in an open casket. They wore their trademark red shirts and carried the Venezuelan flag.
“The struggle continues!” they cheered.
Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia, Sebastian Pinera of Chile, Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and other leaders were in attendance.
Presidents Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina and Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, as well as former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, paid their respects to Chavez in Caracas but returned home before the funeral.
Mr. Chavez, 58, died on Tuesday at a military hospital in Caracas after a long battle with cancer. He had not been seen in public for three months after his fourth surgery in Cuba on December 11, 2012.
Local media reported on Friday that presidential elections could be held in April. The daily El Nacional said April 14, 21 and 28 were being considered as options.
Mr. Maduro was to be formally sworn in as caretaker president after the funeral, and is expected to be the ruling-party candidate in the election.
The opposition is expected to field Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez in the October election.
The constitution says that elections have to be held within 30 days of the interim president’s formal appointment, but the National Assembly, where the ruling party has a majority, could argue that logistical problems might necessitate a delay.
More than 2 million people were hoping to see Mr. Chavez’s body, Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas said.
Mr. Chavez’s body will be embalmed and publicly displayed in the military museum for at least seven days, Maduro said, much like Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong, the Russian and Chinese communist revolutionaries, so that a greater number of people could bid farewell to their leader of 14 years.
The government would consider the possibility of giving Mr. Chavez a final resting place at the National Pantheon, Maduro said, alongside 144 dignitaries including Latin American independence hero Simon Bolivar, whom Chavez claimed as his ideological father.
The opposition said that Maduro could not become caretaker president while running for the presidency.
Some constitutional experts believe the parliament speaker, Diosdado Cabello, should become president.
But Mr. Cabello said on Thursday that the constitution was “very clear on what needs to be done, which is not anything else than swearing in the comrade Nicolas Maduro.”
Mr. Chavez’s fourth term would have started on January 10, at which time he was undergoing treatment in Cuba.
The government bases its decision on a ruling by the Supreme Court, which said in January that Chavez’s government could stay in power even if the president had been too ill to be sworn in after winning elections.