Caracas, Venezuela: Argentine football icon Diego Maradona visited the tomb of his friend Hugo Chavez on Friday and urged Venezuelans to elect the late leftist leader's designated successor in this weekend's presidential election.
Wearing a white shirt and donning diamonds in each ear, Maradona called on Venezuelans to vote for acting President Nicolas Maduro on Sunday to continue the socialist leader's legacy.
"Continue the struggle," Maradona said on state-run television after visiting the marble tomb in an old military barracks perched in a hillside Caracas neighborhood.
"He's no longer here physically but we will continue with Nicolas, we will continue the legacy of not letting ourselves be trampled by anybody," he said. "In the ballot box on Sunday, people must reaffirm Chavez's ideas through Nicolas."
The 1986 World Cup winner signed autographs to people outside the barracks and joined the crowd in chanting "Chavez lives! The struggle goes on!"
Maradona attended Maduro's final campaign rally in Caracas late Thursday, signing footballs and kicking them to the crowd. Wearing a red shirt with his trademark number 10, he kissed Maduro in the cheek.
Maduro faces opposition leader Henrique Capriles in the election, one month after Chavez lost his battle with cancer.
"Speaking with Diego was very emotional because comandante Chavez also loved him very much," Maduro said after they visited the tomb and a photo exhibition in the "Mountain Barracks" where Chavez plotted a failed coup in 1992.
His appearance alongside Maradona and other other programs on state-run television VTV throughout the day drew complaints from the opposition, which noted that official campaigning ended late Thursday.
"VTV shamelessly violating the electoral rules," Capriles wrote on Twitter, urging National Electoral Council president Tibisay Lucena to enforce the law.
Maradona, who gave Maduro a jersey of the Argentine national team, said he apologized to the Chavez family for missing the late president's funeral in March.
"He gave me friendship and incredible political wisdom," the football legend said.
"Hugo Chavez changed the way Latin Americans thought, because we were almost surrendered to the United States our entire lives. He put inside our heads that we could walk on our own," he said.
"That's why he was loved and respected, and for me this was a big loss," he said.
Maduro received support from another Latin American celebrity, Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho, who gave him two signed books, "Aleph" and "The Manuscript Found in Accra."
"I received a beautiful gift from Paulo Coelho," Maduro said after meeting with a delegation from a South American observer mission."
"For Nicolas Maduro, may God bless you and guide you," Coelho wrote in one of the books.
Story first published on: Saturday, 13 April 2013 08:04 IST