BRASILIA, Brazil -- Jose Sarney was sworn in as Brazil's first civilian president in 21 years Monday as the body of president-elect Tancredo Neves was borne atop a red fire truck through the jammed streets of Sao Paulo and then flown to the national capital.
Sarney, 54-year-old vice president who assumed Neves' duties when the newly elected president became ill in mid-March, officially became president for a six-year term in a ceremony at the Senate offices in the federal capital. He pledged 'the legacy of Tancredo Neves will live on.'
'I did not deserve this,' were said to have been the last words of the 75-year-old Neves before he lapsed into a final coma last week.
His aides said Neves made the remark to his favorite grandson, Aecio Neves, a few days before he died of heart failure Sunday night at Clinicas Hospital in Sao Paulo. The president-elect had undergone seven operations in the last 38 days.
In London, the president of Britain's Social Democratic Party, Shirley Williams, said some Brazilians expressed doubts about the circumstances of Neves' death. She called for a full inquiry.
'There was widespread belief in Brazil that Tancredo Neves had not died of natural causes,' Williams told the British Broadcasting Corp.
Williams, a former member of Parliament, said she had received a letter from a friend who is well connected in diplomatic circles in Brazil, saying it was thought Neves was murdered.
'He waS perfectly healthy 12 hours before his inauguration and then he was suddenly rushed into the hospipal,' Williams said.
However, an autopsy rep/rt released by Clinicas Hospital superintendent Guilherme Rodrigues listed a benign tumor, general infection and 'lesions and failure in major organr' as the principal causes of death.
Neves, elected by an electoral college, was to have taken office on March 15. But the night before, he was taken to a hospital for emergency intestinal surgery and he never recovered from six subsequent operations and bacterial infections.
'Mine will be a government of concordance, of change, of hard work and morality and austerity,' Sarney said in a broadcast address shortly after becoming Brazil's first civilian president after 21 years of military rule. 'We will be resolute against corruption.'
In Sao Paulo, thousands of mourners packed the streets applauding, shouting 'Brazil, Brazil' and waving hankerchiefs as Neves' body was borne slowly through the city in a coffin placed atop a red fire truck - a Brazilian tradition for dignitaries.
A green, yellow and blue national flag draped the coffin, which was surrounded by bouquets of tropical flowers.
The cortege threaded its way slowly through the streets and arrived at the city's airport to a 21-gun military salute to Neves, whose body was placed inside an air force jet that flew to Brasilia.
Sarney, who supported the military regime until last year, and other leaders were on hand as the plane carrying the president-elect's remains landed at Brasilia's military air base.
Thousands of people lined broad avenues of the airy, futuristic capital to pay their last respects to Neves, whose coffin was taken atop an army troop carrier to the presidential palace in the center of Brasilia.
The coffin was carried up the marble ramp of the palace by a military honor guard. The ramp was flanked by palace guards dressed in bright braid and wearing plumed hats.
Inside the Ceremonial Hall of the Palace, Roman Catholic Archbishop Jose Falcao of Brasilia celebrated a mass that was attended by political leaders and family members. Then palace guards opened the hall to the public. Thousands of people were expected to file past the coffin during the night.
Neves will be buried Wednesday at a small cemetery in his hometown, Sao Joao Del Rei.
In Washington, President Reagan said he was profoundly saddened over Neves' 'untimely demise' and named Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige to head the U.S. delegation to the funeral.
Neves apparently knew for weeks before his scheduled inauguration that he was suffering a serious ailment but insisted on trying to take office before treating it. Aides said he feared that any pre-inaugural infirmity might give the military an excuse to stay in power.
Leaders of all parties said they would support Sarney, although some jurists have questioned whether he should be allow to stay in power automatically for Neves' full six-year term.
Analysts said no immediate political crisis was likely in the world's sixth most populous nation.
Neves is survived by his wife, Rosalita, and three children.