Caracas:  The coffin of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez was taken to a military academy where he will lie in state for three days, as throngs of weeping supporters swarmed Caracas streets to bid farewell.

Hundreds of thousands waved flags and chanted "Chavez lives" as his hearse crawled across the capital on Wednesday in a seven-hour trip from the hospital where he died to the academy he once called his second home.

The commander's hand-picked successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, walked alongside the car, wearing a somber expression and the colours of the national flag, in what was in effect the first appearance in his election campaign.

He was accompanied the length of the route under a baking sun by Bolivia's President Evo Morales, cheered on by huge crowds. Once at the academy, people sang the national anthem while soldiers removed flowers and mementos thrown on to the wooden casket by the crowd.

The coffin was then ushered inside, with his grieving mother Elena covering her face with a white handkerchief, alongside Chavez's three daughters and somber-faced son, Huguito. Chavez's death after a near two-year struggle with cancer was a blow to his supporters and to the alliance of left-wing Latin American powers, and plunged his resource-rich country into uncertainty as an election is organized.

Under Chavez, Venezuela's oil wealth has underwritten the Castro brothers' communist rule in Cuba and he repeatedly courted confrontation with Washington by cosying up to anti-Western governments in Russia, Syria and Iran.

His body, surrounded by soldiers en route to the military academy where the paratrooper found his political calling as a young man, will lie in state until an official ceremony with foreign dignitaries on Thursday.

People watched from their apartment windows while others climbed fences to get a better view of the hearse. Many held or wore iconic images of Chavez. "We will carry him in our hearts forever. We're going forward until death with him," said Jose Viloria, 64, an agricultural trader, as the president's coffin made its way along a packed avenue under a hillside slum that was a bastion of support.


Latest News from World News desk