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Even after death, Chavez gets choice of successor

By Frank Bajak

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, March 6 2013 7:05 a.m. MST

In this photo released by Miraflores Presidential Press Office, Venezuela's Vice President Nicolas Maduro, right, addresses the nation from Miraflores presidential palace as Governor Adan Chavez, the older brother of President Hugo Chavez, looks on in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Maduro met with top Venezuelan government ministers, the military high command and all 20 loyalist governors in Caracas following word of President Hugo Chavez's deteriorating health.

Miraflores Presidential Press Office, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

CARACAS, Venezuela — Even in death, Hugo Chavez's orders are being followed. The man he anointed to succeed him, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, will continue to run Venezuela as interim president and be the governing socialists' candidate in an election to be called within 30 days.

Foreign Minister Elias Jaua confirmed that Tuesday, just hours after Maduro, tears running down his face, announced the death of Chavez, the larger-than-life former paratroop officer who had presided over Venezuela as virtually a one-man show for more than 14 years.

It was not immediately clear when the presidential vote would be held.

Considerable funereal pageantry was expected to honor Chavez, the political impresario widely adored among Venezuela's poor for putting the oil-rich state in their service.

Seven days of mourning were declared, all school was suspended for the week and friendly heads of state were expected in this economically challenged and violence-afflicted nation for an elaborate funeral Friday. No date or place were announced for Chavez's burial.

Venezuela's constitution specifies that the speaker of the National Assembly, currently Diosdado Cabello, should assume the interim presidency if a president can't be sworn in.

But the officials left in charge by Chavez before he went to Cuba in December for his fourth cancer surgery in a little less than two years have not been especially assiduous about heeding the constitution, and human rights and free speech activists are concerned they will continue to flaunt the rule of law.

Some in anguish, some in fear, Venezuelans raced for home and stocked up on food and water after the government announced Chavez's death, declining to say what exactly killed him. On Monday night, the government had said the president had been weakened by a severe, new respiratory infection.

Tuesday was a day fraught with mixed signals, some foreboding. Just a few hours before announcing Chavez's death, Maduro virulently accused enemies, domestic and foreign and clearly including the United States, of trying to undermine Venezuelan democracy. The government said two U.S. military attaches had been expelled for allegedly trying to destabilize the nation.

But in announcing that the president was dead, Maduro shifted tone, calling on Venezuelans to be "dignified heirs of the giant man."

"Let there be no weakness, no violence. Let there be no hate. In our hearts there should only be one sentiment: Love. Love, peace and discipline."

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez in the October presidential election and is widely expected to be the opposition's candidate to oppose Maduro, was conciliatory in a televised address.

"This is not the moment to highlight what separates us," Capriles said. "This is not the hour for differences; it is the hour for union, it is the hour for peace."

Capriles, the youthful governor of Miranda state, has been bitterly feuding with Maduro and other Chavez loyalists who accused him of conspiring with far-right U.S. forces to undermine the revolution.

Across downtown Caracas, shops and restaurants begin closing and Venezuelans hustled for home, some even breaking into a run. Many looked anguished and incredulous.

"I feel a sorrow so big I can't speak," said Yamilina Barrios, a 39-year-old clerk who works in the Industry Ministry, her face covered in tears. "He was the best this country had."

Others wished Chavez's departure had come through the ballot box.

Carlos Quijada, a 38-year-old economist, said that "now there is a lot of uncertainty about what will happen."

He said a peaceful transition depends on the government. "If it behaves democratically we should not have many problems," Quijada said.

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