FOLLOWERS of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez have taken to the streets to mark the anniversary of his death, a sad but welcome distraction for his successor, who has faced a month of violent protests.

A year after Mr Chavez succumbed to cancer, his self-proclaimed "son", President Nicolas Maduro, faces the biggest challenge to his rule from an explosion of anti-government demonstrations that led to clashes with security forces and 18 deaths.

Yesterday's military parade and other events to honour "El Comandante" were a chance for Mr Maduro, 51, to reclaim the streets and show opponents he too can mobilise supporters.

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Mr Chavez's cousin, Guillermo Frias, 60, said: "He changed Venezuela forever and we cannot go back. Maduro is a poor man like us. He's handling things fine. "

Tens of thousands of red-clad Chavistas gathered for rallies in Caracas and elsewhere to honour the socialist whose 14-year rule won him the adoration of many of Venezuela's poorest, while alienating the middle classes.