Chavez funeral - WFLA News Channel 8

Chavez funeral a platform for Venezuela government's bid to bolster support for his legacy

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The stage is set for President Hugo Chavez's last appearance on the world stage, with leaders from five continents in Venezuela's anxious capital for a funeral Friday to remember a man who captivated the attention of millions and polarized his nation during 14 tumultuous years in power. 

The ceremony will mark a dramatic exit for a president who quarreled publicly with presidents and kings and ordered troops via live television to defend his country's borders. It promises to also give his successors a prime opportunity to rally public support for continuing his political legacy.

Yet with basic details about the event unknown just hours before its scheduled start, the funeral also reflected a leader who tightly controlled all aspects of his government. Government officials said it would begin at 11 a.m. local time, but didn't specify where it would take place or what would actually happen.

For nearly two years, and even after his death Tuesday, Chavez's government has been similarly tight-fisted with information about Chavez's cancer, not indicating exactly where or what it was.   

More than 30 heads of government, including Cuban President Raul Castro and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were scheduled to attend. U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat, and former Rep. William Delahunt, a Democrat from Massachusetts, represented the United States, which Chavez often portrayed as a great global evil even as he sent the country billions of dollars in oil each year.

Venezuelan officials estimate as many as two million people have paid their respects to the late leader. Many of them lined up outside a military academy and waited hours to pass by Chavez's flag draped coffin. To memorialize the leader, Venezuelan officials intend to embalm Chavez's body and keep it on permanent display at a mausoleum.

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