Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela, dies in Caracas
Venezuelans began seven days of painful and public mourning on Tuesday night after the announcement that their president, Hugo Chávez, had died aged 58 after a long battle against cancer.
The country's vice-president, Nicolás Maduro – tipped as a likely successor – broke the news on Tuesday night, prompting a wave of grief in the nation's streets.
"We have just received the most tragic and awful information. At 4.25pm, President Hugo Chávez Frias died," Maduro announced in a televised address, his voice choking. "It's a moment of deep pain," he said.
Chávez died at a military hospital in Caracas, the capital of the country he has ruled since 1999. As soon as the news was announced, supporters gathered at the city's main square, Plaza Bolivar, and began chanting: "Chávez vive, la lucha sigue" – "Chávez lives, the battle continues."
People wearing the red beret the president was known for sang a popular folk song with the words: "Those who die for life cannot be called dead."
As messages of condolence came from many world leaders, perhaps the most significant was from Barack Obama. He said: "At this challenging time of President Hugo Chávez's passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government. As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the US remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law and respect for human rights."
Chávez, the symbol of Latin American socialism, succumbed to a respiratory infection on Tuesday evening, 21 months after he first revealed he had a tumour. He had not been seen in public for three months since emergency surgery in Cuba on 11 December.
He will be given a state funeral in Caracas on Friday, likely to be attended by millions of supporters and leftwing leaders from across the globe who have been inspired by Chávez's doctrine of "Bolivarian 21st-century socialism", grateful for the subsidised energy he provided or simply impressed by his charisma. His death will also trigger a presidential election, to be held within 30 days, to decide who controls the world's greatest untapped reserves of oil.
His designated successor, Maduro, is likely to face Henrique Capriles, the losing opposition candidate in the presidential election held a few months ago in October 2012. Until then, according to the constitution, the interim president should be the head of the national assembly, Diosdado Cabello. However on Tuesday night the Venezuelan foreign minister, Elias Jaua, said Maduro was the interim president. It was not clear whether this would only apply until the official calling of the election and beginning of the campaign, or whether Maduro would remain in charge until the election result was determined.