Followers of President Hugo Chávez on Thursday began filing past the late leader’s coffin at the Military Academy, where it was to lie in state for three days, while more foreign leaders considered allies announced plans to attend funeral services.
The line where people stood hoping to get in to see the coffin stretched for more than two miles. Those who filed past the coffin gave it military salutes, gave signals of the cross, or touched the bier. Filing past: women carrying babies, elderly couples, young men and women, many wearing the red shirts of support. Some of the people who came to see the coffin spent the night in the long line.
On Thursday, officials awaited the arrival of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. On Wednesday, the coffin was accompanied in a long procession to the Military Academy headed by Bolivian President Evo Morales and Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro. Then at the Military Academy, the presidents of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez and Uruguayan president José "Pepe" Mujica, joined Morales joined to stand guard before the bier.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said he plans to travel to Caracas to attend the funeral. So far there has been no announcement on whether Raul Castro, the Cuban leader, plans to attend.
The Venezuelan government has not announced where Chávez will be buried, but his followers demanded loudly Wednesday during the funeral procession that the burial take place at the National Pantheon, final resting place of Venezuelan heroes such as Simon Bolivar, hero of independence from Spain.
The National Assembly president, Diosdado Cabello, has said he will do everything possible to have Chávez’s remains buried at the National Pantheon.
As the hearse carrying the coffin passed by, the crowd threw flowers, hats and red shirts.
At the military academy, the first guard of honor was performed by visiting foreign leaders, followed by those of Venezuelan government leaders, and then members of Chávez’s family including his elderly mother.