6 March 2013
CARACAS, March 5 (Xinhua) -- The situation in Venezuela remained stable Tuesday following the death of President Hugo Chavez though his grieving supporters took to the streets, chanting slogans in memory of the socialist leader.
Earlier in the day, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, accompanied by key members of cabinet, announced the death of Chavez, who had battled with cancer for almost two years.
Maduro referred to the leader's death as a "historical tragedy" and called on Venezuelans to be vigilant for the peace of the country.
During a separate televised meeting of political and military leaders at the presidential palace, the vice president said that the "imperialist" conspirators, in alliance with domestic foes, had infected the president with cancer.
And a panel will be set up to determine the causes of Chavez's illness, he said.
In his speech, Defense Minister Diego Molero appealed for "unity, tranquility and understanding" among Venezuelans.
He pledged that the armed forces will defend the constitution and respect Chavez's wishes.
The Venezuelan government declared seven days of mourning. Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said Chavez's remains will lie in state at a Caracas military academy until a formal funeral ceremony on Friday.
And a presidential election will be held within 30 days, said Jaua in a televised speech. Maduro will temporarily take presidential duties until a new president takes office.
Without giving further details on the exact date of election, he said that Chavez had made arrangements as early as in December in case he died.
To mourn Chavez, the national flag was lowered at half mast in front of the military hospital, where the president has fought cancer in the last two weeks of his life.
"Don't leave, Chavez, don't leave," wailed Chavez's supporters flooding into the streets. The military hospital, Plaza Bolivar and the Presidential Palace where saddened supporters gathered, were engulfed in grief. Supporters carrying pictures of Chavez sang the national anthem and shouted "He's alive!," "Everyone is Chavez" and "We have motherland."
In areas dominated by opposition supporters, however, firecrackers were even heard.
In a statement, the opposition alliance offered condolences and voiced confidence that Venezuela will be able to overcome the difficulties at the time.
And opposition leader Henrique Capriles, a 40-year-old governor of Miranda state who was defeated by Chavez in the October 2012 election, offered condolences to Chavez's family and supporters and appealed for "unity among Venezuelans."
He also urged the government to "act strictly within its constitutional duty."
Chavez has undergone surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment since he was first diagnosed with a type of pelvic cancer in the summer of 2011.
A former paratroop lieutenant colonel, Chavez was jailed in 1992 after leading a coup attempt against then President Carlos Andres Perez.
In December 1998, Chavez won the presidency with 56 percent of the vote after campaigning for reform, constitutional changes and a crackdown on corruption. In October 2012, Chavez was re-elected to a third term.