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Venezuela President Hugo Chavez dies, funeral scheduled for Friday

Nicolas Maduro, vice president of the Republic of Venezuela, announced President Hugo Chavez died Tuesday. (Source: VTV/CNN) Nicolas Maduro, vice president of the Republic of Venezuela, announced President Hugo Chavez died Tuesday. (Source: VTV/CNN)
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(RNN) - The Venezuelan government has reported its president, Hugo Chavez, has died and will be laid to rest Friday.

Officials announced he died at 4:22 ET Tuesday. Chavez was recently hospitalized with a severe respiratory infection, according to his representative.

"Commander, wherever you are, thank you, a thousand thank you's, on behalf of this country you loved, you protected, and that you never let down, " said Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro.

The government has called for seven days of mourning for Chavez, and all schools are closed for the week.

The funeral is reportedly going to be a lavish affair attended by heads of state from allied countries.

No date or place were yet announced for Chavez's burial.

According to the Associated Press, elections will be called in the next 30 days, though it was not clear exactly when they will be held.

Maduro will run Venezuela as interim president until the elections, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua confirmed Tuesday.

The Associated Press reports that the Venezuelan constitution mandates that the speaker of the National Assembly should take control if a president cannot be sworn in.

However, those left in charge of the country during Chavez's illness haven't been following the letter of the law, a precedent that has human rights and free speech advocates concerned.

President Barack Obama issued a neutral statement soon after the death that hinted at a criticism of Chavez's controversial rule.

"At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez's passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government," Obama said. "As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights."

On Twitter, several hashtags began trending moments after the death was announced. "#QEPD Chavez," Spanish for "RIP Spanish," had mostly neutral reactions, including one twitter who said: "I'm not a Chavez supporter at all, but he's a human who fought for his life."

In a press conference from the hospital where Chavez passed away, Maduro accused foreign countries of poisoning the president. He also said David Delmonaco, a U.S. Embassy official, would be expelled from the country.

Chavez had been president of Venezuela for the past 14 years and won re-election in October 2012 when he defeated Henrique Capriles, governor of Miranda.

Capriles was widely expected to run for president again upon Chavez's death.

Chavez had been battling cancer since at least 2011, when he announced his condition to the Venezuelan public. He most recently sought treatment in Cuba, but returned to Venezuela on Feb. 18.

Several media reports indicated he was bed-ridden and breathing from a tracheal tube. He had not been publicly seen since December, but the Venezuelan government released a photo of him with his daughters in a Cuban hospital in February.

Chavez missed his inauguration in January because of his poor health.

Chavez was born on July 28, 1954. The son of teachers and raised by his grandmother in a mud hut in rural Venezuela, Chavez's boyhood dream was to be a baseball player in the major leagues, according to Rory Carrol, author of Comandante, a biography of the Venezuelan leader.

His love of baseball was the initial reason for joining the military. But soon after joining, he became inspired by revolutionary ideals and felt that his country needed a socialist change in its leadership.

Rising through the ranks of the military, Chavez served as an army officer before participating in an attempted coup in 1992, for which he served two years in prison.

But after his release, he took advantage of his popularity and became president of the South American country in 1999.

Soon after taking office, Chavez created a new constitution that, among other things, gave him a longer 6-year term.

During his 14-year presidency, Chavez made great strides in reducing poverty in Venezuela with the help of socialist reform programs and oil wealth.

However, critics argue that more could have been done with the oil monies and point out that violent crime increased dramatically and the country did too little to reduce it.

Although popular, Chavez faced tough opposition from other parties in the country. But with a tough grip on the media and high support among Venezuela's poor, Chavez was able to maintain power until his death.

Chavez's final tweet was sent on Feb. 18. He said: "I still clung to Christ and trust in my doctors and nurses. Ever onward to victory! We will live and overcome!"

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