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Crowds of Venezuelans turn out to honor Chavez as coffin is transported

After a seven hour procession through the streets thronged with mourners, the body of Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez arrived Wednesday afternoon at the Military Academy where it was to lay in state.

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans followed Chavez's coffin, draped in Venezuela's blue, red and yellow flag, as it was moved through the capital city of Caracas, from the hospital where the charismatic leftist leader died to its destination, about two miles away.

A Venezuelan government source estimated that some 8,000 people were gathered outside the Military Hospital where he died, waiting for Chavez's private guards to begin the procession.

Television pictures showed much larger crowds in the city's main streets.

Chavez, 58, the socialist leader who ran Venezuela for 14 years, lost his two-year battle with cancer Tuesday.

One of the country’s top military leaders and a key Chavez supporter, Maj. Gen. Wilmer Barrientos, said on local television (link in Spanish) that the procession would allow Venezuelans to pay their respects.

"That way we will offer him the honor of a head of state accompanied by the people, the people who love him so much, who venerated him, who continue to venerate him," he said.

A mass attended by the country’s political and military elite would be held at the Military Academy, Barrientos added.

A public funeral is scheduled for Chavez on Friday, followed by seven days of mourning.

"It's a moment of deep pain," Vice President Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday, as he announced Chavez's passing and urged the nation not to resort to expressions of violence.

'I adore him'

The deceased leader's daughter, María Gabriela Chavez, tweeted to her followers: "I don't have words. Eternally, THANK YOU! Strength! We must follow his example. We must continue building our NATION! Always daddy of mine!"

Venezuelans — some in tears, some chanting "Long live Chavez!" — also gathered near the Miraflores presidential palace Tuesday, The Associated Press reported.

"I feel such big pain I can't even speak," Yamilina Barrios, a 39-year-old office worker, told the AP. "He was the best thing the country had ... I adore him. Let's hope the country calms down and we can continue the tasks he left us."

"He was our father. 'Chavismo' will not end. We are his people. We will continue to fight!" Nancy Jotiya, 56, in Caracas' downtown Bolivar Square, told Reuters.

Reuters reported isolated violent incidents, including the burning of tents used by students who had been protesting against secrecy surrounding Chavez's condition.

The oil-financed social policies implemented throughout his rule earned Chavez the support of the poor but also disapproval from Venezuela's business community and the wealthy. "At last!" shouted some women in an upscale neighborhood, according to Reuters.

Condolences also poured in from around the world.

Among those who made public remarks was Henrique Capriles Radonski, who faced Chavez in the nation's elections last October.

"We hurt for the feelings of pain of the deceased president's family, and of his colleagues and many Venezuelans, our most heartfelt condolences," Capriles said. "This is not a moment to highlight what separates us. In hours of anguish, families and a people, who are a great family, must unite in prayer, in mediation. Not time of difference, time of union."

Capriles lost to Chavez in October, but the latter was not sworn in due to his illness.

NBC News' Edgar Zuniga and Mary Murray, and The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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