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Venezuelans mourned the death of Hugo Chavez and prepared on Wednesday for his body to lie in state as attention turns to a new election to succeed the socialist leader after 14 years of tumultuous and divisive rule.
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The 58-year-old president died on Tuesday after a two-year battle with cancer that was first detected in his pelvis. He had suffered multiple complications following his latest operation on Dec. 11 and had not been seen in public since then.
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The future of Chavez's self-styled leftist revolution, which won him passionate support from the poor but alienated opponents who called him a dictator, now rests on the shoulders of his preferred successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro.
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The authorities said a new vote would be called within 30 days, but it was not immediately clear if that meant the election would be held within 30 days - or whether the date for the ballot would be announced within 30 days.
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Military commanders quickly pledged loyalty to Maduro, who becomes caretaker leader until the new election. Much of Caracas was quiet overnight, with streets deserted especially in richer parts of the capital. Most shops locked their doors as the news spread, fearing looting.
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Despite having weeks to come to terms with their leader's likely demise, Chavez supporters were wrought with grief.
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Hundreds of emotional "chavista" loyalists gathered outside the military hospital where the president spent his last two weeks. A female TV reporter from neighboring Colombia was beaten up, and gunshots were fired in the air.
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Chavez easily won a new six-year term at an election in October and his death shocked millions of supporters who loved his folksy charisma, anti-U.S. diatribes and oil-financed projects to improve life for residents of long-neglected slums.
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Critics, however, saw his one-man style, gleeful nationalizations and often harsh treatment of rivals as evidence he was a dictator whose misguided statist economics squandered a historic bonanza of oil revenues.