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Maduro will take reins from Chavez

By Christopher Toothaker

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 5 2013 10:49 p.m. MST

In this TV frame grab taken from the Venezuelan network Telesur, Venezuela's Vice President Nicolas Maduro announces the death of President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Maduro announced that Chavez died on Tuesday, ending 14 years of rule. Maduro said that Chavez died "after battling a tough illness for nearly two years." The death apparently sets up a presidential election to replace Chavez, whose illness prevented him from taking the oath of office for the term to which he was re-elected last year. (AP Photo/Telesur)

Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela — Vice President Nicolas Maduro is taking over leadership of Hugo Chavez's political movement after the socialist leader died Tuesday at age 58 following a nearly two-year bout with cancer. Maduro now faces the daunting task of rallying support in a deeply divided country while maintaining unity within his party's ranks.

Maduro decidedly lacks the vibrant personality that made Chavez a one-man political phenomenon in Venezuela, but he has the advantage of being Chavez's hand-picked successor.

The mustachioed 50-year-old former bus driver won Chavez's trust as a loyal spokesman who echoed the president's stances. How Maduro will lead in Chavez's absence remains to be seen, although he's widely known as both a skilled negotiator and a leader who views upholding his mentor's legacy as his personal crusade and responsibility.

One of the biggest tasks Maduro will likely face is attempting to hold together a diverse movement that includes radical leftists, moderates and many current and former military officers.

Analysts have speculated that differences might emerge between factions led by Maduro and Diosdado Cabello, the influential National Assembly president who is thought to wield power within the military. But thus far both men have denied such divisions and vowed to remain united.

After Chavez's Dec. 11 cancer surgery, Maduro stepped up his public appearances to fill the void, providing regular updates on the president's condition, calling for unity among allies and lambasting the opposition.

Chavez's deteriorating health led him on Dec. 8 to announce Maduro as his chosen successor. He said that if his illness prevented him from being sworn in on Jan. 10, government supporters should rally around Maduro and elect him president.

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