By Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said an image of his idol and predecessor, the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, has appeared miraculously in the wall of an underground construction site.
Since his death from cancer earlier this year, Chavez has taken on mythical proportions for supporters and Maduro has spoken of seeing his former mentor's spirit several times, including in the shape of a bird.
In the latest incident, Maduro said Chavez's face had briefly appeared to workers building a new subway line in Caracas in the middle of the night.
"My hair stands on end just telling you about it," Maduro said on state TV late on Wednesday, showing a photo of a white-plaster wall with marks that appear like eyes and a nose.
"Who is that face? That gaze is the gaze of the fatherland that is everywhere around us, including in inexplicable phenomena," added an awed Maduro, who won an April election to replace Chavez after his 14-year presidency.
Maduro's reverence for Chavez plays well with government supporters, who treat the charismatic former leader's memory with religious adoration. The 50-year-old Maduro, who mixes Catholic beliefs with a penchant for Asian spirituality, has been a devoted personal follower of Chavez since first meeting him at a jail in 1993.
Workers took the photo with a mobile phone during the image's brief appearance, the president added.
"Just as it appeared, so it disappeared. So you see, what you say is right, Chavez is everywhere, we are Chavez, you are Chavez," Maduro said during an event shown on live TV.
Stories of Chavez appearances, however, draw mockery from the roughly half of Venezuelans who do not support Maduro. Many of them regard him as a buffoon riding on Chavez's image and causing embarrassment for Venezuela's international standing.
Both sides are gearing up for local elections in December that will be a major test of Maduro's standing in the OPEC nation of 29 million people. Rampant violent crime and economic problems are the main issues taxing voters.
(Editing by Diego Ore and Doina Chiacu)