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'Moment of deep pain': Venezuela erupts in emotion as interim president takes over

Supporters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez react as they learn that Chavez has died through an announcement by the vice president in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, March 5, 2013.
Supporters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez react as they learn that Chavez has died through an announcement by the vice president in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, March 5, 2013.Ariana Cubillos / AP

Hundreds of Venezuelans poured into the streets of Caracas to mourn President Hugo Chavez after learning of his death Tuesday.

Chavez, 58, the socialist leader who ran Venezuela for 14 years, lost his two-year battle with cancer, which was first detected in his pelvic region in 2011.

"It's a moment of deep pain," Vice President Nicolas Maduro said, as he announced Chavez's passing and urged the nation not to resort to expressions of violence.

The deceased leader's daughter, María Gabriela Chavez, tweeted to her followers: "I don't have words. Eternally, THANK YOU! Strength! We must follow his example. We must continue building our NATION! Always daddy of mine!"

A public funeral is scheduled for Chavez on Friday, followed by seven days of mourning.

Venezuelans -- some in tears, some chanting "Long live Chavez!" -- gathered near the Miraflores presidential palace and outside the military hospital where Chavez died, The Associated Press reported.

"I feel such big pain I can't even speak," Yamilina Barrios, a 39-year-old office worker, told the AP. "He was the best thing the country had ... I adore him. Let's hope the country calms down and we can continue the tasks he left us."

"He was our father. 'Chavismo' will not end. We are his people. We will continue to fight!" Nancy Jotiya, 56, in Caracas' downtown Bolivar Square, told Reuters.

As the streets filled with people and stores closed early, additional police were sent to monitor the crowds. Reuters reported isolated violent incidents, including the burning of tents used by students who had been protesting against secrecy surrounding Chavez's condition.

The oil-financed social policies implemented throughout his rule earned Chavez the support of the poor but also disapproval from Venezuela's business community and the wealthy.

"At last!" shouted some women in an upscale neighborhood, according to Reuters.

Condolences also poured in from leaders and politicians around the world.

Among those who made public remarks was Henrique Capriles Radonski, who faced Chavez in the nation's elections last October.

"We hurt for the feelings of pain of the deceased president's family, and of his colleagues and many Venezuelans, our most heartfelt condolences," Capriles said. "This is not a moment to highlight what separates us. In hours of anguish, families and a people, who are a great family, must unite in prayer, in mediation. Not time of difference, time of union."

Capriles lost to Chavez in October, but the latter was not sworn in due to his illness.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said Tuesday that Maduro will be interim president, and also run as the governing party candidate in elections that will be called within 30 days. Jaua said it was Chavez's wish that Maduro should be the socialist party candidate.

According to Venezuela's constitution, the executive vice president should be put in charge when the president dies. The constitution, however, also specifies that the speaker of the National Assembly, currently Diosdado Cabello, should be in charge if a president can't be sworn in.

NBC News' Edgar Zuniga, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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