CARACAS, Venezuela -- Supporters of fallen leader Hugo Chávez began to gather at the Military Hospital near downtown Caracas Wednesday morning, as they prepared to follow his funeral carriage on a winding farewell procession through the capital city. Chávezs body will be taken to the Military Academy an institution that defined his life until his state funeral on Friday.
Throngs of people watched, waved banners and sang the national anthem as the funeral carriage emerged from the hospital, carrying Chávez s casket draped in the Venezuelan flag and crowned with a wreath in the national colors of yellow, blue and red.
The approximately 8-mile-long procession will end at the national Military Academy, where Chávezs body will lay in state until the funeral on Friday. It is unclear if the viewing will be open or closed casket, but the government has invited the nation to visit Chávezs coffin at the Military Academy.
Many supporters are expected to pay their last respects to the fiery leader.
Victor Davila, 33, a chef, draped the national flag over his shoulders as he watched the procession.
He could always draw a crowd, Davila said as he surveyed the crowd outside the hospital. There are millions of us here.
Pedro Liendo, 46, a sociologist, said the nation will mourn Chávezs loss, but that the president had left very clear marching orders.
"This revolution had to continue with or without him,'' Liendo said.
He also had a warning for those in the opposition who would seek to capitalize on Chávezs death.
"There are provacateurs out there who want to destabilize the country, Liendo said, but we're not going to let them.''
While a small crowd stood vigil outside the hospital and at public plazas, the streets of Caracas were largely desolate overnight amid fears that the uncertainty might spark violence. But authorities did not report any major incidents.
As morning broke, people huddled around newsstands, snapping up the special editions that marked Chávezs death.
The country cries for Chávez, blared a headline from Ultimas Noticias.
Tomas Saldivia, 46, was sitting on a curb holding his head. He said it had been a rough night, gathering with family members to mourn the president who led this country for 14 years. Saldivia said he would always be grateful to the administration for paying the hospital bills for his daughter who died of cancer at 19.
We lost a leader, he said. We have to continue the revolution, like he asked us to, but this hurts.
Others wonder what will come next for the country.
By law, new elections should be held within 30 days and the administration is rallying around Vice President Nicolás Maduro, who had Chávezs full backing.
But Maduro, a one-time union organizer and longtime foreign minister, has yet to win over the people.
If things werent calm here with Chávez, I think its going to be even worse with Maduro, said Tatiana Carrero, a 39-year-old graphic designer. All Im hoping now is that whatever comes next isnt worse than what we had.
Carrero said she would support Henrique Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda State, who lost to Chávez in Octobers presidential race.