Thousands of Venezuelans attended a wake for former President Carlos Andres Perez on Wednesday amid tears and speeches a day after his remains arrived in his homeland and ended a a bitter family feud over his final resting place.
Politicians, relatives and supporters of Perez crowded around his closed casket at the headquarters of the Democratic Action party in downtown Caracas and sang the party's anthem.
"Rest in peace, president," said Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, once a confidant of Perez.
The remains of Perez arrived in Venezuela nine months after his death in Miami at age 88 set off a feud between his wife, who wanted to bring the body home, and his mistress in the United States, who said Perez had vowed repeatedly never to return as long as political arch-nemesis Hugo Chavez was president.
The two sides finally reached a confidential settlement sending his body back to his homeland.
Matilde Diaz, an 80-year-old housewife, celebrated the repatriation of Perez's remains.
"I feel great happiness that my president has returned to Venezuela," Diaz said.
There are no plans for any kind of state funeral in a Venezuela governed by Chavez, who once led a failed coup against Perez.
But Carmen Aracelis Alvarez, a retired nurse who clutched a plastic doll in the former leader's image, said there was no need for an official ceremony because "he's receiving the best homage from the people who loved him and continue loving him."
Perez finally will be buried on Thursday following a funeral Mass.
Speaking during an interview broadcast on state television, President Chavez lamented Perez's death while criticizing the ex-president's politics.
"One must regret the death of a human being who has dies and so much time passes before a burial," he said.
Chavez suggested the economic policies implemented by Perez increased poverty and spurred riots in 1989 and more than 300 people were killed in the unrest known as the "Caracazo."
The self-proclaimed revolutionary, a former lieutenant colonel who has been an outspoken critic of Perez and his political allies, also justified his effort to oust Perez through a 1992 coup attempt. At least 17 soldiers and 80 civilians were killed during the botched coup attempt.
The military rebellion was necessary, he argued, because Perez and his close confidants were involved in rampant corruption and ignored the plight of Venezuela's poor majority.
Perez was president from 1974-1979 and again from 1989-1993, surviving two failed coup attempts. He left the country in 2000, facing the threat of arrest on corruption accusations, and did not return.
In his first term in the 1970s, Perez won popularity by nationalizing Venezuela's oil industry, paying off foreign oil companies and then capitalizing on a period of prosperity that allowed his government to build subway lines and bankroll new social programs.
Venezuelans elected him for a second time in 1988, hoping for a return to good times after a decade of economic decline. But his popularity plunged when he tried to push through an economic austerity program.
Associated Press writer Christopher Toothaker contributed to this report.
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