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'Fascist', 'lies': Venezuela election campaign begins with personal attacks

Marco Bello, Reuters

Venezuela's acting President Nicolas Maduro, seen gesturing to supporters Monday, says he will continue Chavez's legacy.

CARACAS, Venezuela — Presidential candidates Nicolas Maduro and Henrique Capriles have begun Venezuela's election race with scathing personal attacks even as mourners still file past Hugo Chavez's coffin.

Maduro, sworn in as acting president after Chavez died of cancer last week, is seen as favorite to win the April 14 election, bolstered by a wave of public sympathy over Chavez's death.

Tomas Bravo, Reuters

Venezuela's opposition leader and presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, seen showing his election registration papers, accused his opponent of manipulating Chavez's death for electoral gain.

"I am not Chavez, but I am his son," Maduro told thousands of cheering supporters as he formally presented his candidacy to the election board on Monday.

"I am you, a worker. You and I are Chavez, workers and soldiers of the fatherland," the former bus driver and union activist added after the crowd's emotions were whipped up by recordings of Chavez singing the national anthem.

His rally congested downtown, and Capriles sent aides to present his papers to the election board rather than going personally.

Chavez made clear before his last cancer operation in December that he wanted Maduro, his vice president, to be his Socialist Party's candidate to succeed him.

Maduro has vowed to continue the radical policies of Chavez's 14-year rule in the South American OPEC nation, including the popular use of vast oil revenues for social programs.

But Capriles is promising a tough fight.

"Nicolas, it is you who are the problem ... you are the voice of lies," Capriles said Monday, accusing him of minimizing Chavez's medical condition while he prepared his candidacy. "Death should never be used, particularly not for election campaign ends."

At stake in the election is not only the future of Chavez's leftist "revolution," but the continuation of Venezuelan oil subsidies and other aid crucial to the economies of left-wing allies around Latin America, from Cuba to Bolivia. Venezuela boasts the world's largest oil reserves.

Tens of thousands of grieving Venezuelans lined up for miles in the streets of Caracas to pay their respects to the open coffin of Hugo Chavez.  ITV's Matt Frei reports. 

Government officials said Capriles was playing with fire, offending Chavez's family and risking legal action by criticizing the handling of his death.

"You can see the disgusting face of the fascist that he is," a furious Maduro said, alleging the opposition was hoping to stir up violence.

Capriles, a descendant of Polish Jews on his mother's side, was a victim of racist and homophobic slurs from Chavez supporters last year. Maduro appeared to allude to that Monday.

"I do have a wife, you know? I do like women!" he told the crowd with his wife, Cilia Flores, at his side.

Though single, Capriles has had various high-profile girlfriends in the past.

"I want to send a message of ... rejection about Nicolas' homophobic declarations," Capriles said. "It is not the first time. His is a message of exclusion."

Hugo Chavez, socialist leader of Venezuela, dies after long battle with cancer at the age of 58.

The official mourning period for Chavez ends on Tuesday. Several million have paid their respects at his coffin at a military academy.

In death, he is earning a near-religious status among supporters, perhaps akin to that of Argentina's former populist ruler Juan Peron and his deeply loved wife, Eva Peron.

State television has been playing speeches and appearances by Chavez over and over, next to a banner saying "Chavez lives forever."

Capriles, a 40-year-old centrist governor who describes himself as a "progressive" and an admirer of Brazil's political model, ran in the last presidential election in October, taking 44 percent of the votes.

"This is going to be a really tough campaign for us, we know," said an aide at Capriles' office in Caracas.

"It's hard to get everyone enthused and pumped again. We've only got a month, and we're fighting Chavez's ghost, not Maduro. But believe me, we'll give it our best."

Jorge Silva / Reuters

Click to view scenes from the political life of the Venezuelan leader.


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