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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez dies

(Al Jazeera) Outspoken and divisive president dies after two-year battle with cancer, leaving future of oil-rich nation in question.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has died after a two-year battle with cancer, ending the socialist leader's 14-year rule of the South American country, Vice President Nicolas Maduro has said in a televised speech.

Maduro, surrounded by other government officials, announced the death in a national television broadcast on Tuesday.

Reaction from around the world to Chavez's death was swift.

US President Barack Obama, in a statement, called Chavez's passing as a "challenging time" for Venezuela.

"The United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government," Obama said.

"As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights."

Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general, said he is "conveying condolence" to the Venezuelan president's "family and the people of Venezuela", according to Al Jazeera's James Bays, who was reporting from New Yor

Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, also issued as statement describing Chavez's death as a "tragedy".

"He was a great politician for his country and for the world as a whole," Churkin said.

Meanwhile, a teary-eyed Bolivian President Evo Morales, one of Chavez's closest allies in Latin America and most loyal disciples, declared that "Chavez is more alive than ever."

"Chavez will continue to be an inspiration for all peoples who fight for their liberation," Morales said on Tuesday in a televised speech. "Chavez will always be present in all the regions of the world and all social sectors."

Elias Jaua, Venezuela's foreign minister, has declared seven days of mourning for Chavez.

Jaua also said the corpse of late Venezuelan president will lie in state through Friday when a public funeral will be held with invited guests from across Latin America.

Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from Caracas, said "millions of people" are expected to attend the funeral.

"Chavez is known as a guy who could bring out his supporters and that is what's going to happen," Elizondo said. "He is such a big figure here in Venezuela, you cannot overstate it. He is larger than life".

Confrontational style

During more than 14 years in office, Chavez routinely challenged the status quo at home and internationally.

Chavez polarised Venezuelans with his confrontational and domineering style, yet was also a masterful communicator and strategist who tapped into Venezuelan nationalism to win broad support, particularly among the poor.

Chavez repeatedly proved himself a political survivor. As an army paratroop commander, he led a failed coup in 1992, then was pardoned and elected president in 1998. He survived a coup against his own presidency in 2002 and won re-election two more times.

The burly president electrified crowds with his booming voice, often wearing the bright red of his United Socialist Party of Venezuela or the fatigues and red beret of his army days.

Before his struggle with cancer, he appeared on television almost daily, talking for hours at a time and often breaking into song of philosophical discourse.

Chavez used his country's vast oil wealth to launch social programs that include state-run food markets, new public housing, free health clinics and education programs.

Poverty declined during Chavez's presidency amid a historic boom in oil earnings, but critics said he failed to use the windfall of hundreds of billions of dollars to develop the country's economy.

Inflation soared and the homicide rate rose to among the highest in the world.

The populist leader of oil-rich Venezuela became Latin America's most vocal and controversial leader and was Washington's chief antagonist in the region.

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