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Venezuelans mourn Chavez

March 6, 2013 at 1:46 PM   |   Comments

CARACAS, Venezuela, March 6 (UPI) -- The body of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was taken Wednesday from the hospital where he died to a military academy where he will lie in state.

Thousands of people lined the streets as Chavez's casket, draped in the national flag, was taken by hearse through the capital of Caracas to the Fuerte Tiuna Military Academy, where Chavez studied as a young cadet. Chavez will lie in state there as the country declared a mourning period of seven days.

Chavez, 58, died Tuesday after treatment for cancer and after a career that included a failed 1992 coup, a successful presidential election in 1998 and 14 years as the dominant, charismatic, divisive and three-times re-elected president of oil-rich Venezuela, The New York Times noted.

"Chavez gave us everything," a mourner said on state-run television, a reference to the social programs at the center of his socialist government.

A new election will be held within 30 days, CNN reported, signaling a possible new path for the country. Interim President Nicolas Maduro, the former vice president, is widely expected to be the united Socialist Party candidate for the office, CNN said.

Schools and universities will be closed through Friday, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said.

The shops of Caracas, many of which closed abruptly when Chavez's death was announced Tuesday, reopened Wednesday morning, the Times reported.

The government plans to hold a ceremony with visiting heads of state Friday, Jaua said, adding officials would announce later where Chavez would be laid to rest.

Maduro, who was close to tears when he announced Chavez's death on national television Tuesday, said the national armed forces and national police were deployed "to accompany and protect the people and ensure peace with the people."

There were reports of violence in Caracas Tuesday, CBS News said.

Armed, masked men broke up a demonstration by about 40 students near the Supreme Court building, burning tents and scattering food and supplies. An angry crowd attacked a Colombian television reporter outside the hospital where Chavez died.

The head of Venezuela's military, Gen. Wilmer Barrientos, said late Tuesday there was "complete calm" in the country, CBS reported.

Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday night at Bolivar Square, singing the Venezuelan national anthem and carrying posters bearing Chavez's picture.

Jaua said in a television interview Maduro, 50, a former bus driver and Chavez's desired successor, would take the helm until a new election is held.

Some critics said rival politician National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello was constitutionally authorized to be acting president following Chavez's death.

Chavez's hospitalization in Havana after cancer surgery kept him from taking the oath of office after he won re-election Oct. 7. The Venezuelan Constitution says the National Assembly president, or speaker, is supposed to take over as interim president under such circumstances.

Jaua said Maduro would remain as head of state because that was what Chavez wanted.

The Constitution says Venezuela should "proceed to a new election" for president within 30 days.

The election is expected to pit Maduro against Henrique Capriles, 40, a state governor who lost to Chavez in the October election by 11 percentage points.

Capriles has twice beaten top Chavez lieutenants in elections for governor of his state, Miranda, which includes part of Caracas.

"My sympathy to all the family and supporters of President Hugo Chavez," Capriles said on Twitter Tuesday.

Capriles called for "the unity of Venezuelans."

Maduro warned the opposition -- who he called "those who never supported the comandante Hugo Chavez" -- to "respect the pain of the people."

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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