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Maduro Sworn In As Venezuela's President
Nicolas Maduro has been sworn in as Venezuela's acting president, just hours after Hugo Chavez's state funeral came to an end.
Mr Maduro, who had been Mr Chavez's vice president, is the chosen successor of the late Venezuelan president, but his appointment is against the objections of the political opposition who say the move violates the country's constitution.
After taking the oath of office in the National Assembly, Mr Maduro broke into tears as he promised to continue Mr Chavez's "revolution" and push his socialist-inspired agenda.
"Please excuse our pain and our tears but this sash belongs to Hugo Chavez. This presidency belongs to our commander in chief. I Nicolas Maduro, a militant of the cause of Chavez, assume this sash of his, as a legitimate president to defend the people, and to protect them and to fulfil the inauguration and to continue on his path and to continue the revolution and to move forward with the Bolivarian independence and socialism."
He also launched a blistering attack on the US, saying: "We tell them: Sooner than later, the imperialist elites who govern the United States will have to learn to live with absolute respect with the insurrectional people of the ... Latin and Caribbean America."
Mr Maduro also claimed the allegiance of Venezuela's army, calling it "the armed forces of Chavez" as he pumped his fist in the air, a gesture that was reciprocated by the defence minister watching from the gallery.
Critics have voiced increasing concern about the overt support the military has shown to the ruling party since Mr Chavez's death, despite a ban on the army's participation in politics.
The country's 1999 constitution says the National Assembly speaker becomes interim president in the event of a president-elect's death or inability to be sworn in. The constitution also says a presidential election should be called within 30 days.
Mr Maduro is expected to face off against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, the centrist governor of Miranda state who lost to Mr Chavez in October's election.
Hours earlier, Mr Maduro placed a replica of the golden sword of South American independence hero Simon Bolivar on his mentor's wooden coffin during Mr Chavez's state funeral.
Most Latin American leaders attended the service, including Chilean president Sebastian Pinera and Cuba's Raul Castro, as well as Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus.
Mr Chavez died this week at the age of 58 after a two-year battle with cancer.
Millions of mostly poor supporters hailed him for ploughing Venezuela's vast oil wealth into social projects, but critics say he left his successors a monumental task, with annual inflation of more than 20% and public debt that quadrupled to more than $100bn.
Mr Maduro said the government would embalm Mr Chavez's body and put it on permanent display close to the Presidential Palace where the socialist leader ruled for 14 years.